Image via YouTube / Facebook
Facebook did something rather curious on Thursday. It introduced a new kind of mobile product, one not quite like anything we've seen before. It's not an app. It's not an operating system. It's certainly not a smartphone. Rather, it's all three. And people like it.
Welcome to Facebook Home. If you imagine your Facebook profile is a bedroom where you cybersnuggle with your friends, Facebook Home is the whole house, one with a pretty sweet intercom system built in (I'll get back to this idea in a minute). Based on the social network's other recent moves, there's a strong chance that Facebook wants an even bigger domain. Maybe one day we'll see Facebook Neighborhood or Facebook Town. (Side note: That would be an awesome name for a Facebook theme park. You can have that idea for free, Zuck.)
Who knows if Facebook Home is enough to draw people out into the hallway, down to the living room or even into the kitchen. The quasi-operating system is deeply integrated with Google's Android OS and supports the family of Android apps. Think of these of the various rooms in Facebook's new house.
The key innovation over other versions of Android is this social layer that Mark Zuckerberg's always yapping about. Along with easy-to-reach share buttons, there's a new app called Chat Heads that basically puts your conversation with friends front and center. Instead of switching apps to use Chat Head, you just tap your ever-present avatar and start typing a message. This is that intercom idea I mentioned a second ago.
It's a great idea. Phones are supposed to help us communicate with other people so why not make that easier. No need to tap three times from the home screen to open a Facebook app to read your News Feed. Your News Feed is your home screen. Just start scrolling. In time, there will be ads in that News Feed just like there are in your regular News Feed, and suddenly, Facebook has a lot more real estate to sell ads onto. For Facebook's larger lust for global domination, though, the implications are bigger than a business model.
Facebook has finally proven that it doesn't want to be on the Internet. Facebook wants to be the Internet. Facebook wants to be the very fabric that connects us. We started to see the beginnings of this effort way back in the day when Facebook introduced the News Feed seven years ago. Suddenly, Facebook served the unique purpose of being a starting point to exploring the Internet, much like Google and Yahoo! have been in the past. With the News Feed, there's no need get lost in the jumbled mess that is the web. Just look at what your friends want to share.
Things got really serious with the Like button. For lack of a more appropriate analogy, little snippets of Facebook code were starting to colonize the rest of the web. With the Like button came a fascinating and bottomless bucket of binary data: one when the button is clicked and two when it's left alone. Suddenly, Facebook knows much more about its users and their behavior than any fill-in-the-blanks profile could ever reveal.
Other efforts to pwn the Internet as we know it include record-setting investments in colossal server banks, inching towards the idea that Facebook would survive even if somebody turned off the rest of the Internet. (One cannot simply "turn off" the Internet, but that's a whole other blog post.) Facebook's latest redesign resembles a Facebook page less than it resembles a web browser. There are apps and everything. There's a store where you can buy stuff. Facebook even has its own payments system.
And I haven't even started talking about Facebook's mobile domination. Facebook Home is now the centerpiece of a larger strategy that's easily encapsulated with this Zuckerberg from the last earnings call: "Facebook is a mobile company." Whatever that means. He's not even limiting himself to an industry like "media" or "commerce." Facebook doesn't know what kind of company it will become, but it will become a colossal one.
Why? Because Facebook is what will connect people to people to brands to political candidates to institutions to companies to ideas and even history. Just check out how Facebook has gobbled up all of Wikipedia and pooped out millions of Facebook Community pages for everything from aardvardks to Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg explained the power of these connections and hinted at how Facebook will continue growing its empire. "Actually only about a third of the world is on the Internet today," he said. One billion of them are on Facebook. "So we're really closer to the beginning of this than the end." The future is bold. "We're coming to the point when [most people] will have never seen in their lives what you and I think of as a computer. Think about that for a minute."
This sounds a lot like a quote from 15-year-old Mark Zuckerberg's old Angelfire page, which I blissfully stumbled upon the day before the young billionaire unveiled Facebook Home. Keep in mind the fact that young Zuck wrote this to describe a piece of software he built over 20 years ago:
As of now, the web is pretty small. Hopefully, it will grow into a larger web. This is one of the few applets that require your participation to work well. If your name is already on The Web because someone else has chosen to be linked to you, then you may choose two additional people to be linked with. Otherwise, if you see someone who you know and would like to be linked with but your name is not already on The Web, then you can contact me and I will link that person to you and put you on The Web. If you do not know anyone on The Web, contact me anyway and I will put you on it.
Now Zuckerberg owns a bigger chunk of the actual web than almost anyone. And he's keeping that promise. If you want to be on the web, he'll put you on it. Click here.