Matthew Fitzsimmons

Is Facebook Killing Better Web Apps?

When Facebook launched Photos, they immediately became the largest photo-sharing site on the internet, eclipsing Flickr nearly overnight. The problem is Facebook’s Photos functionality isn’t nearly as nice as Flickr. They became the largest photo-sharing site immediately because they already had those users who, by and large, spend more time on their site than anywhere else. These users aren’t going to venture out to Flickr if they can just dump their SD cards into Facebook.


Garrett Murray posted a little rant about how Facebook Places is an example of how Facebook implements features that other services already do better, and instantly becomes more popular even though their implementation isn't as good as the third party solutions.

He complains that Facebook is "destroying independent web applications with boring versions that immediately win due to Facebook's population".

Far be it from me to think I know more about the web than Garrett Murray, but I don't buy it.

Flickr is far from dead. Yes, Facebook has more photos and more users, but has it even had an impact on how many people use Flickr?

Vimeo, another example he lists, is also far from dead, and appears to be increasing in popularity. It's too early to tell if Facebook places will have any impact on services like Gowall and Foursquare.

Facebook gets so many users of these mediocre services for one big reason: if pretty much everybody you know is on Facebook, then Facebook is the best way to get these people to see what you want them to see.

It doesn't matter how much better a third party photo site is—if I want my family members to see pictures of my dogs, I'm going to post them to Facebook. I may post them elsewhere as well, but not posting them to Facebook would ensure that my family members would probably never see them.

But here's the thing: the content that gets posted to Facebook—and only to Facebook—is usually just as mediocre as the Facebook services themselves. If I have something I think deserves a wider audience than Facebook, I'll post it elsewhere (and probably to Facebook, too).

In reality, Facebook probably serves as a mediocrity filter to some degree. Some of this vast amount of content that gets posted to Facebook isn't the kind of content you want cluttering up your higher quality services.

The kind of people who only post photos and videos to Facebook are probably not the kind of people who were ever going to sign up for a paid Flickr or Vimeo (or SmugMug or MobileMe or whatever) account in the first place. Is it really so bad that Facebook ties into this untapped market of freeloaders that nobody else wants anyway?

The bigger problem is the people who will never click a link to leave Facebook unless it's "OH NO THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END BECAUSE OF MUSLIM OBAMA!!" But that's a completely different story…

August 24, 2010