When did you first become aware of personal computers? In 1983, 1984, as the IBM PC and then the Macintosh happened? Truth is, they'd been around for years at that point. What about the Web? It was probably the mid-90s before you started using it regularly, even though pioneers had been on it for a couple of years. How about Google? Tell the truth--you used Alta Vista until Google was two or three years old. These are all examples of killer technologies and businesses whose power most of us only really became aware of once they became established in the marketplace. In many ways, they sort of snuck up on us.
But we're getting to watch the growth of the Facebook economy in real time, with full awareness of what's happening. You might not have caught onto the power of Facebook itself until it had a few million college-age users, but the rise of Facebook as an open platform for application and business development--through widgets--has happened right before our eyes. No need to play catch-up: It started in May when Facebook opened its platform to widget development, and now it's maturing in full view. Five months, total. Amazing.
It's fascinating to watch, as goofy virtual pet widgets and soical gaming apps are joined by more serious widgets that turn Facebook into even more of a useful destination site. Echoing the rise of the Web a decade or so ago, the widget game is moving from hobbyists into a serious business, with significant investment dollars chasing successful widget development, and business models starting to emerge. I know a company whose Facebook widget (a game) is doing 10 million page views a day. Ten million! Not too shabby. And that's up 50 percent from last week.
It's an exciting time--unlike the other breakthroughs I mentioned, widgets aren't sneaking up on us. They're already part of everyday life and we can closely follow their development. It's fascinating to watch. Over time, I think, widgets and other Facebook attributes will turn the platform into the ultimate personalized home page--a MyYahoo that really is yours, with info about friends and colleagues supplementing news, weather, stock quotes, RSS feeds and other staples of personalized sites. Those are the widgets being developed now, the serious ones that move Facebook from curiosity into an essential element of daily life.
Think that $15 billion valuation was excessive? Check back in a year or two. And if you're a news organization not looking hard at Facebook as a development and distribution platform, get with the programming, now. Or else you'll get left behind.