Journalists, business analysts and social networkers everywhere often talk in awe of Facebook’s success, and recently I came across an article that seemed to describe Facebook’s success – and the power that enables it – perfectly. In a New York Times blog post, Nick Bilton likens Facebook’s unparalleled success to Spider-Man’s superhuman, innate ability to predict the future. In this article, I will examine the idea, and you can decide for yourself whether Facebook possesses a fairly earned skill, or a dangerous, manipulative edge.
Facebook’s Size Gives It Power
Facebook is everywhere on the web, gaining its powers through the 9 million-plus apps and services making their way through Facebook Connect and endless Like buttons scattered throughout the Internet.
With the number of Facebook users expected to reach 1 billion this year, the social network has something its competitors simply do not – a massive user base connecting Facebook to people all over the world.
This connection helps Facebook tune into the pulse of people online in ways other companies cannot even imagine. It gives Facebook an insider’s look at what is becoming popular before it even registers on competitors’ radars.
How Facebook Predicts the Future
Facebook is watching you; more specifically, it is watching what you Like and which apps you use. And, it is wielding this power to make some serious business moves.
As an example, Bilton cites Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. Because Facebook can monitor how quickly its enormous user base is adopting a new service, Facebook noticed a huge spike of Instagram photos being posted on people’s walls. The company used this information to move quickly, buying Instagram for $1 billion before competitors Twitter or Google even had a chance.
Skill or Manipulation?
The tricky part comes when Facebook uses its power to experiment with others’ success online. Bilton points out the rapid rise to fame Socialcam and Viddy enjoyed after Facebook started highlighting the apps on its own network. Before Facebook (B.F.), both video-sharing services were growing at a modest pace. After Facebook (A.F.), each had close to 20 million users.
Perhaps Facebook is just promoting services it knows will enhance its own users’ experience, but just a little imagination can find troubling applications for this power. If Facebook has the ability to buy something low and make it go high (by driving tons of traffic), then Facebook not only can predict the future, but it also can create it.
What do you think? Is Facebook merely using its fine-tuned skills, or is something more sinister lurking behind the Like?
Image courtesy of madtomatoe.comGoogle+