Reconsidering Facebook


Being a quick brain dump, since the Internet does not exist where we’re staying in Claryville, NY.

Before we left Brooklyn I was thinking about Foursquare; I think what Jon Steinberg and crew have done with Social Great is really interesting, but it’s not the direction that really excites me about the potential of the real time Web.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Social Great tracks the Foursquare checkins across a number of cities and provides near real-time trending data: where are people (in the aggregate sense) going, what places and sorts of places are most popular now, and what trending is happening in those various cities. Really cool.

The issue for me, though, is that while this is a great way to transform Foursquare’s data, I think it doesn’t go far enough in the transformation; while it’s far less “now” focused than Foursquare itself, Social Great is still pointing in that direction. As the poster child for the “real time Web,” Twitter has set the default mindset and behavior to taking real-time input and making it into real-time output–or as close to real-time as the service can handle, anyway. We tend to assume that the value of these little chunks of data decreases like a new car leaving the lot: if you don’t catch it immediately it’s lost a huge part of its value.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Taking Foursquare as an example, what I was interested in seeing was a map overlay of the full historical data set for my friends: if I’m trying to kill an hour or two in an unfamiliar neighborhood, being able to see which places my friends have gone to  (and which of those they’ve gone to frequently) has more value than knowing where those friends are right now. In aggregate, the little snippets of data become hugely valuable to me.

But there’s another issue here: I’m increasingly irritated by the fact that Twitter is the dumping ground for a lot of this data. Everybody makes it easy to dump their data into Twitter, because Twitter is…yes, you guessed it, the poster child for the “real time Web.” Since Twitter is input == output, though, people’s timelines become increasingly littered with context-free “I’m here,” and “I just bought this,” and “I just heard this” tweets.

It’s pretty close to a 180 for me to say it, but what since Facebook is already somewhat further along in managing distinct classes of real time data that may or may not be visible (think Facebook apps)–and they dearly want in on the real time scene, as long as we’re on the topic–so what if we let them have all this data? As long as I can pull all the data out via an API [yes, that’s a big caveat there] I really don’t care where it lives, so why not let Facebook have a shot?

Maybe it’s a terrible idea, but I’m starting to think that we really need an aggregator for all of this stuff, and one that acts as a storehouse rather than a repeater.