Facebook wants you to beat! Scram! Vamoose! Leave! Get off their servers! That’s right. Facebook thinks you should start your own blog, website, photo archive and everything else digital you can think of. Really? Really!
Ok, we’re being a little harsh, but with the introduction of Facebook Timeline, this is certainly the case. It seems that Facebook no longer wants to host your online life, they just want to aggregate it. Timeline is a new Facebook feature that collects and organizes data from the various sites you use across the web. It takes what you’re listening to on Spotify and creates attractive playlists to share with your friends. It collects photos from Flickr and organizes them into magazine style layouts. It even snags the data from your GPS running gear so you can gloat about your workouts with your friends. Timeline hoovers up all your online data, re-packages it in a nice, clean layout, and makes it shareable with your posse on Facebook.
There is nothing all that groundbreaking about Timeline on the surface. Facebook has been collecting and aggregating your data since day one. What IS interesting is that is signals a change in the way Facebook view you, and your data. Up until now, Facebook has done everything possible to get you to upload, store and collect your data on the Facebook servers. Remember all those changes to the photo uploader and photo albums? When they added the ability to Tweet from your FB home page? The same thing goes for adding chatting and Skype right into the Facebook interface. Now, we’re seeing a big change.
Facebook would rather you live your life online in other places, as long as you have that data fed back into Facebook. So far, they haven’t given a clear answer why, but we can speculate. Speculation is the social media Lingua Franca. It’s possible that Facebook sees a limit on how much data a company with this many users can realistically store. Their data costs must be astronomical, even though they run their own data centers. Possibly they think that encouraging users to connect with other services will get users who are burned out on Facebook to participate more, in a secondhand way, by sharing data. Maybe they’ve realized that they are trying to do too many things, and other sites can do them better. For example, can Facebook launch a music player that compares with Spotify? Doubtful. Can they emulate the blogging features found on Tumblr or WordPress? Highly unlikely.
It could be the ultimate digital case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Timeline is a major step in keeping Facebook the center of its’ userbases digital life. Allowing its users to share data from any social site or app, in a very attractive way, positions Facebook as the central hub of the social media world. They can form partnerships with many other sites, and encourage their users to participate in them, while keeping their own market domination intact. It is a pretty brilliant play, with a long term impact.
So what do you think? Is Facebook setting themselves up for long term web domination, or just giving their users a pretty way to conveniently share and aggregate their data? Let us know in the comments. In the meantime, we’ll be taking up their invitation to spend our time elsewhere on the web.