This weekend Nick Bilton collected the rumors & whispers surrounding Facebook's mobile phone project. Very interesting! I asked my friend Anil Dash if Facebook should release such a phone, and he said:
What would be the business model? My mind tells me that a free, open-source [phone] with built-in hooks to [Facebook] services and APIs would be good enough to push increased usage of [Facebook's] revenue-generating services and advertising.
I didn't really ask him, obviously, I just read a nine-year old blog entry. But phones are the new browsers, and in hindsight it was inevitable that Microsoft, Apple and of course Google would all double down on their browser investments, and you can bet that Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google will be doing the same in the mobile hardware world. My only nit with Nick's article is that he missed the more obvious acquisition target: Dell. They're dirt cheap right now and could help bring a Facebook tablet to market. But it's more likely that Facebook doesn't need to buy a hardware company. Dave Winer:
Facebook is, in addition to a software developer, a huge hardware maker. In fact their software isn't all that special. What is amazing is the physical plant that runs all that software. A couple of generations ago you could say that a big software company had no experience in hardware, and maybe with the advent of clouds like Amazon and their competitors, it could soon be that way again -- but today, to be a net presence like Facebook means building and operating a lot of hardware.
This brings to me another question Anil posed on twitter:
What's it like if you're on Facebook's Camera team, been working for months & then see Zuck decide to spend a billion $ on a competitor?— Anil Dash (@anildash) May 25, 2012
Anil is teasing here, but affectionately. He's well aware that the Instagram acquisition was obviously not about features. It wasn't even about Instagram's social graph, and it certainly wasn't because Instagram has discovered some secret sauce to great photography communities:
Whose Instagrams should I follow? I like doggies, fashion/design, drugs, SUNGLASSES, moms, airports, CANDY, Emojis, cool cars, ugly tattoos.— Kate Carraway (@KateCarraway) May 28, 2012
Instagram popularity scale: dogs > food > vistas/sunsets > books > self-portraits > friends > non-vista landscapes/places > randomness— Doree Shafrir (@doreeshafrir) May 28, 2012
These are two of the more brilliant web-native socially savvy writers working today, but when it comes to Instagram, it feels like there's not a lot to say. In fact these tweets are nonsense! What does Facebook have to learn from Instagram? Dog pictures are best? Neither Facebook nor Instagram have any idea how people will use their cameras, or what is good, or even why Instagram was a hit. Having both Instagram (for nonsense) and Facebook Camera (for friends and parties) will be extremely useful as Facebook tries to solve the mystery of making money selling other people's mobile activity to advertisers. Facebook is successful because they crunch large amounts of data in search of trends. If it takes ten camera apps for them to crack the nut, they'll release ten apps.
I expect that ISP and cable companies will also be shipping camera and social apps. If you think the market is too crowded for new apps, consider that this past year Time Warner didn't like the terms of their agreement with the Knicks, so they blacked out Knicks games for millions of New Yorkers. If TelCo companies can cut off Knicks they can cut off Facebook. Facebook is worth 30-40 times what the Knicks are on paper, but trust me, the Knicks will outlast Facebook. When we look back at this period of time in three years or so, Facebook releasing a phone is going to look like the tamest news from this year.
I call it a JIT-SE or Just-In-Time-Search-Engine. The JIT-SE feature is particularly suited to weblogs, which are time-oriented websites. The Google crawler notices that I update my site every day, so it knows it should come back and re-index my site every day. It finds lots of links to new stuff. Presumably it indexes those pages too.
Dave was also writing about this two days ago, on May 26th, 2012. In his proposal for a new publishing standard, he wrote:
People can use [the web] to create and edit public documents, with a twist. Users can also provide the URL of a document, and you provide me with an endpoint that I can ping when it updates… Also support the flipside of the protocol as well. Provide a URL for the document, and are willing to ping a subscriber when it updates.
His "new" proposal (please read the whole thing) is actually an evolution of the idea he was writing about sixteen years ago. Companies may spend an enormous amount of money on each other and thousands of apps can be written and phones built and so on, but this is actually a relatively slow-moving industry. In fact, you could argue that there's very little we do in browsers today that we couldn't do fifteen years ago. If you follow most tech coverage on the web you'll seen an enormous amount of coverage devoted to companies that weren't around two years ago and won't be around in two years hence. If you stop paying attention to the stories that have month or year-long arcs and look for stories with narratives that are years or decades long (and there are many) it's much more satisfying. And that is how you read the Internet!