For about a year or two, i've been meaning to do a followup piece on how Google, Microsoft, & Yahoo all screwed the pooch by not building out a REAL web application OS worth developing apps for, but i'm too late.
GYM is Old & Busted.
Facebook is The New Hotness.
It's really astonishing how much opportunity the big 3 GYM had to do something truly innovative, how many assets & properties & APIs they had to turn into great platforms, how many brilliant geeks & architects & programmers could have laid out a BIG VISION -- and yet how PATHETICALLY & AWFULLY they missed the mark & overlooked the biggest potential for the IntarWeb since Clarke & Andreesen birthed Mosaic.
(and btw eBay & Amazon also effed up too, but they never really had the right geek DNA... tho Bezos came closest with AWS/S3/EC2. Jeff really doesn't get credit for how brilliant a tech visionary he is. Still think he should have kept A9 in, spun AWS out instead of the other way around, but whatever he's still as much of a genius as Gates or Jobs)
But at this point, talking about how each of those 3 huge companies fucked up and missed the boat is really old news. Facebook is the New Hotness, and everyone else is simply Scratching at the Door of Cool.
So i'm doing a different take on this one. Kottke is dead wrong about Facebook being AOL, and even his wimpy backtracking is off the mark. Jeremiah & Robert, i love you guys but i think your concerns are overstated. Duncan Riley has it pretty close, but not quite...
Facebook isn't AOL. It's Visual Basic.
Let me explain.
I may act like a young turk/geek, but i'm actually over 40, so i might as well pull out the old skool. Back in the day, i used to be a no-talent pc database developer. I couldn't code my way out of a paper bag. My first paid programming gig was hacking dBase III, and when i came out to California in '89 i barely managed to score a job doing Sybase DB SQL app dev (& later got fired for writing poetry... long story, another time).
But in 1991, something happened that changed my life: Microsoft released Visual Basic. Sure, it was probably a half-assed ripoff of NeXTstep's Interface Builder -- a truly beautiful & groundbreaking app dev environment, btw -- but with Microsoft pimping VB out to 100,000+ overachieving Excel jockeys like me, it was a GodSend. In one resistance-is-futile Borg minute, i was EMPOWERED. Suddenly i was on a level playing field with all those egotistical mofo C++ programmers who looked down their noses at Delta Geeks like me. Why? BECAUSE NOW I COULD PROGRAM IN WINDOWS.
and because of that, i was teh Shit.
I could drag & drop forms. I could create multi-select listboxes. I could create butt-ugly gray menu buttons, big as Rosie O'Donnell's ass. I could create garish color schemes that only Richard Simmons would love. And i could click on one simple menu option, and create an .EXE that was a windows app.
In short, Microsoft Visual Basic brought Windows Programming to the Huddled, Unwashed Masses (= me). No more coding to the Windows API, no more reading tomes as thick as a telephone book to figure shit out, no more second-class geek citizen who got paid $20/hr for dBase III coding instead of $50+/hr for REAL MAN Windows development.
And in the ensuing next few years, boy were there a lot of shit apps delivered. I mean some real god-awful crap was built. And people paid good money for that garbage. I'm not just talking about the excrement i created, but there were people who had NO GODDAMN BUSINESS doing programming who could all of a sudden build windows apps. Folks who could barely fucking write an Excel Macro to sum a column were creating Windows programs. Oh. Mi. Gawd. It was TERRIBLE. and yet, it was wonderful.
Microsoft gave all of us aching to be the alpha geek the chance to Live the Dream. When Visual Basic was released, a hundred thousand n00bs like me got the equivalent of 6-inch heel lifts in our shoes.
We were somebody, dammit.
And THAT was the beginning of the end for everyone else in the industry... NeXT, Apple, IBM, Borland, you name it. Those other companies created wonderful, beautiful, incredibly awesome OS's & programming languages & tools. But they DIDN'T CREATE A PLATFORM for the Everyman Joe Six-Geek to develop on. So they floundered. And they lost market share. And they ultimately FAILED -- at least, in becoming the platform that everyone ended up using. Not because Microsoft was better. Not because they cheated. Not because they played hardball. BECAUSE THEY CREATED A PLATFORM. A simple platform. A butt-ugly, pissant simple, just-good-enough app dev platform.
Fast Forward to May 24, 2007.
A few months ago, ~16 years after Visual Basic shipped, ~14 years after Mosaic shipped, ~12 years after eBay & Amazon & Yahoo created Act I of the Internet Revolution, and ~6 years after Google Adwords rolled out, Act II of the Internet Revolution just happened.
Kottke, you've got it wrong. Facebook isn't AOL, cause AOL was never a simple platform. It WAS a walled garden. But it was also a piss-poor environment for building & developing apps. (but since no one had "email address fwdg", the lock-in was incredible).
Facebook -- or more accurately, the Facebook Platform -- is the equivalent of Visual Basic for the Web.
Because it provides a simple & easy way for anyone --ANYONE -- to build a quick & dirty little app that can be deployed quickly on Facebook. Hell, i haven't coded anything more advanced than HTML in over 10 years, and *I* even got the basic tutorial app to run.
And that's why Facebook is going to dominate the Web.
That's why they blew off Yahoo for a measly $1.6B. That's why they'll bury Microsoft, and turn Ballmer down even if he offers $10B before the IPO. And that's why they're even going to "fucking kill Google".
Because Facebook is the first REAL web services platform worth building apps on. Not to mention, their API has all the social graph info no one else has yet enabled. Not to mention, the News Feed enables a whole new world of viral marketing. But social networking mumbo jumbo aside, it's enough they've simply made it possible for anyone to build & deploy apps.
That's why they're not AOL. And that's why they'll win.
Welcome to Renaissance 2.0 :)