July 15th, 2007

Facebook Is A Killer App For Limited Asynchronous One-To-Many Communication


Each killer communications app has a unique core value proposition that nothing else can beat:

  • Telephone — synchronous one-to-one voice
  • Email — asynchronous one-to-one text
  • Instant messagingg — synchronous one-to-one text
  • Blogging — asynchronous one-to-many text

No other platform is even close to displacing any of these — especially email. For years, the talk has been that IM would replace email, and now some are wondering whether Facebook site mail will replace email (last year it was MySpace site mail). But email has a feature that none of these other platforms can claim — EVERYONE has an email address.

That’s why nothing is close to supplanting the telephone — everyone has a phone number. Twitter is supposed to be an alternative to blogging, but all it really did was lower the threshold to posting. Blogging software is still a far superior platform.

The reality is that new killer communication applications haven’t replaced old ones but rather have enabled an entirely new mode. Email is still the best for one-to-one asynchronous, i.e. the other person doesn’t have to be there to respond instantly. But IM is ideal for synchronous communication, i.e. when you need an instant response.

The same is true of Facebook. It’s not going to replace email, IM, blogs, or anything else, because what it enables is entirely distinct. Facebook is an ideal platform for limited asynchronous one-to-many communication — when you want to communicate with a group but not with the whole world. For asynchronous one-to-many communication with the whole world, nothing beats a blog.

But Facebook is perfect for when you want to share updates, news, information, photos, videos, etc. with a defined group of people, i.e. your friends, with none of the inefficiencies of email (e.g. endless group discussion threads, attached documents with multiple versions) and all of the efficiencies of blogs:

  • One central location
  • Easily updated
  • Shared discussion space (i.e. comments)

Facebook hasn’t yet perfect limited asynchronous one-to-many communication. For example, you can’t opt to communicate only with a sub-group of your friends, as you might for a particular business interaction. Facebook is still optimized for students who want to communicate with all of their friends all of their time, rather than business purposes where you might not want to communicate with everyone all of the time. (Everyone in the tech/media space who has suddenly discovered Facebook is running around singing its praises as if it were designed for them, but they’re all just trying to look hip.)

As with IM, Facebook or other social networks with similar features will work for this type of limited group communication only if everyone you want to communicate with is inside the walled garden. But once they’re all in, it will allow you to transfer certain communications that were happening inefficiently in another platform to one where the communication has a lot less friction.

  • While Facebook isn't replacing email anytime soon, it is becoming an equal of email even for one-to-one asynchronous communication.

    Part of the magic of facebook though, is that it drives users towards public, one-to-many, asynchronous communication like the wall for situations that might well have been one-to-one synchronous (IMs) in the past. By making all these messages public and persistent, the opportunities for both voyeuristic entertainment and lucky coincidences get amplified and integrated over time.

  • Big ups to whoever made that app. After I set up my facebook and added the email app I couldn't get back to the origin and I don't have any friends so I can't compose a message.

    Anyway, I'm tired of all this. Late.

  • Hashim, thanks. Since I'm not on Facebook and can't see that page and you say "in" Facebook are you saying that that you can send email "out" of Facebook?

    I'll just drop you a line. This is the second time I've brought this up on one of these 2.0 sites I follow religiously and gotten blown off by the people I'm addressing.

  • Rex,

    Nick Carr is on vacation, so somebody has to pick of the slack ;) Seriously, though, I put myself in that category.

    Saying that you can't understand Facebook unless you're 22 years old with all of your friends on the system only proves the point that Facebook is optimized for "them" and not for "us." But I don't think Facebook has to wait until it's core student users grow up. It can optimize itself for business now, if it wanted to.

    I also agree about not having the pressure of being a publisher -- the difference is in being fully public vs. only sharing with your friends. When you share with the world, you're a publisher. When you share with your friends, you're...sharing with your friends.

  • re: "everyone in the tech/media space who has suddenly discovered Facebook is running around singing its praises as if it were designed for them, but they’re all just trying to look hip."

    Geez, Scott. Did you take a Nick Carr pill this morning?

    Scott, I gave up on looking hip a couple of decades ago. However, I've discovered it's hard to know what to like -- and not like -- about something until you live in it a while. Some things stick, others don't. However, when one lives with a high school and college student and observes them -- and everyone they know -- exist the greater Internet and enter a walled-off part of it, those who are curious about online culture and communication can't help but try to understand the obsession.

    Unfortunately, Facebook (like Twitter) is something that impossible to understand until you have a critical mass of friends you care about join you. It's all about the social graph. Each person who joins up makes it a little more valuable for existing users. It's an amazing experiment in economics, as well as media.

    I think Facebook is a great model -- and probably long-term winner -- for 'identity management.' All of the personal publishing 'platforms' that have evolved over the past 6-8 years are blended into Facebook as features. It has blogging, newsreading, photo-sharing, etc., but users aren't weighted down with thinking they are publishers -- I know this doesn't fit in your all bloggers are publishers theory, however. One thing about 22 year olds: they are 30 before you know it. As the students become "workers" they will demand Facebook work for businesses, as well.

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