The Age Of Facebook

Two years ago I was on the Charlie Rose show and we talked about, among other startups and trends, Facebook. It wasn’t clear then that Facebook had what it took to become one of the great technology companies. They had conquered the college market and were destroying the hopes and dreams of MySpace. But they were also reeling from the Beacon debacle and hadn’t proven that they could turn those massive reach and page view numbers into sustainable revenue streams.

You can watch the whole discussion about Facebook, which begins at about the 22:00 mark. But the key question I asked then was, “Will Facebook Have their Google moment?” I was referring to Google’s ability to pair awesome search in the late nineties with, later, an amazing business model – a bidding system for text ads. In 2008 it was clear that Facebook had taken the first step and changed our culture, possibly permanently. But it wasn’t at all clear that they would create the massive revenue streams to allow them to effectively dominate tech culture.

Fast forward to today. Those questions have been answered. Facebook is profitable and probably is running at a billion dollar plus revenue run rate today. They have 400 million users and 500 million people visit the site each month. Only Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have more monthly visitors than Facebook. And only Google has more page views. And they aren’t done growing yet. In a year they will likely be second on the list of unique visitors. In two years, they’ll probably be first.

In a talk a few days ago investor Ron Conway spoke about the explosive growth of Facebook. “They are the universe,” he said. I asked him if we are in the Age of Facebook. His answer was yes. Ron has been investing in startups for thirty years and he has seen the rise and fall of many companies. This wasn’t just idle chatter.

Microsoft dominated the technology world in the 90s on the back of their Windows and Office products. Google was the champion for the last decade after perfecting the business model around search. Both are still huge companies.

But all the momentum is behind Facebook and how they are changing the Web, and our culture.

Last week Facebook unveiled a variety of new developer tools, and new consumer applications are set to be launched in the near future. What’s most interesting about these changes aren’t the debates about whether what Facebook is doing is good for the Internet or not, or how open or not open their solutions are.

Those debates are important but they don’t affect the Facebook revolution any more than debates about Adsense a decade ago affected the decade of glory that Google just experienced. The fact is that Facebook is permeating the Web. Publishers, us included, are clamoring to organize our websites in ways that please Facebook.

Their vision of an open graph of people and things (with Facebook at the center) is becoming reality, and debates by technologists won’t changes that. Facebook is taking over our identity and we are going along with that happily. It will take a new technology paradigm to disrupt what Facebook is doing.

Microsoft’s Windows platform wasn’t threatened by user complaints, lawsuits or even government actions to weaken it. It took the evolution of the browser as an operating system, and new applications like Google Docs, to give users the comfort to move beyond Windows. And while the Windows franchise is still going strong, the writing is on the wall. Eventually, it will fall.

Someday, maybe a decade from now, some new technology will rise and allow other companies to threaten Facebook. But until then there is little to stop them. Their march to dominance has just begun.