Back in April 2010 when Facebook launched the Like button for websites, much blog commentary focused on how the company was trying to take over the internet. Some comment was positive, although the majority painted a bleak future where Facebook controlled online life as we know it. But the fuss died down and we went on as normal. Until now. When viewed systematically, recent announcements and speculation put Facebook on a seemingly relentless march towards complete dominance not just of social media, but of the internet as a whole.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the timeline on the right (I’m aware of the irony of using that phrase) of some of Facebook’s activity from the last couple of years. (You can view a larger version here.)
Two things are noticeable. First, Facebook jumps on trends and either partners with a company which is at the forefront of that trend (Spotify, Skype) or develops its own platform (Places, Camera). But that should come as no surprise to anyone working in social media. Perhaps more revealing is how Facebook is methodically and strategically expanding its reach across the web by introducing more and more productised services. This started with the Like button and continued with blog comments, geo-location, video messaging, music streaming and Opengraph. And in the last few weeks, it’s stepped up a gear.
Mobile is the Future of the Web
Facebook knows how important mobile is. There have been rumblings about how ‘the web is dead’ due to the growth of mobile ever since Wired wrote about it 18 months ago, but recently this meme has raised its head again with more intent. ‘Dead’ is far too strong, but ‘evolving? Definitely, largely due to mobile. And Facebook is finally taking it extremely seriously. In just a few weeks it’s upgraded and redesigned its mobile apps (though the main Facebook app is still a little clunky) and introduced a Page manager app and a new Camera app, both currently only available for iOS. It’s moving fast. Very fast.
The Instagram acquisition, though very sudden, could hardly be described as a surprise. And viewed in isolation, it looks very simple – Facebook wanted to tackle its supposed weakness in mobile and to capitalise on the explosive growth of the image-based web. But if that were the case, why did the company then release its own, similar image-based product for mobile, Facebook Camera, last week? To understand, you have to look at the bigger picture. At a meet up in London recently, Brian Solis explained the acquisition not as a platform acquisition but as a “talent acquisition”. Facebook already had Camera up its sleeve (although I suspect there’s some Facebook Camera/Instagram integration in the pipeline), but it wanted the people who can push the company further. How long until it launches a social video service to complete with Viddy and SocialCam? Not long, I’d say.
Is a Browser War on the Horizon?
Now there are very strong rumours not only of the development of a Facebook phone and corresponding operating system to compete with Android and iOS, but also of the acquisition of the Opera web browser. The latter might, at first glance, look odd with such an apparent focus on mobile. But take a look back at June 2011 and the partnership that Facebook announced with social browser RockMelt. At the time, rather insignificant. But if it acquires Opera and with it the highly regarded mobile browser Opera Mini, it starts to make sense. A fully-functional Facebook social browser for mobile, anyone?
If all this comes off, who knows where Facebook could go next. How long before it gears up for a stab at Google’s real heartland and takes on the search market? I’d be amazed if it isn’t already working on a product that works in sync with a newly-acquired and re-developed Facebook/Opera mash up that makes social and search truly united. Google obviously has a massive advantage in the search market, and the launch of Knowledge Graph is a major step. But it’s not untouchable.
So this raises a very real and very pertinent question: could Facebook really own the web? In a couple of years’ time, could we be updating Facebook from our Facebook Mobile and scouring the web on a Facebook browser using Facebook Search? What do you think?