It’s ironic, how ‘ease’ becomes the noose that chokes innovation and development. AOL, Facebook, iTunes, they all offer closed, proprietary solutions to ‘problems’ that — in more ways than one — are not so hard to solve. Solutions that seem to ‘work’, that ‘succeed’ because the ‘trend’ is to embrace ‘easy’, as opposed to ‘moderately challenging’, because the ‘smart money’ is behind them and because of network effects.
In the last few years, that is after the wave of ‘Web 2.0′ (ironically, yet another ‘trend’ exploited by ‘experts’ that abused it for profit) subsided, Facebook started making serious money. Its real success as an advertising platform is not only arguably minimal, but quite controversial. It took a long time for the advertising industry and the hordes of marketing monkeys to embrace Facebook’s walled garden approach and doing what they do best, counting. Only this time it wasn’t ‘impressions’ or ‘clicks’ or ‘conversions’ they were counting, but ‘likes’, another frivolous metric that doesn’t really mean anything in the real world. Facebook apps, once touted as the next big thing and a threat for the web, were stillborn, largely because Facebook itself made significant steps to expand beyond the confines of its site, by creating interfaces, programmatic and user, for other platform-owners to embed in or integrate with their platforms. So we got a slew of ‘social plugins’, more ‘APIs’, etc. But there were some exceptions, like Zynga, a gaming company living inside Facebook.
Now, Zynga just launched Zynga.com. And it’s a big deal, because this is the first Facebook-dependent business of significant scale that expands beyond the confines of this walled garden du jour.
The whole ‘frenzy’ with Facebook in the ad world is now in its third year. As with AOL’s endeavours fifteen years ago, the Facebook frenzy may be past its prime; as a teenager of the early-to-mid 1990s, AOL ‘keywords’ seemed to me like a pointless exercise, yet another ‘top-down’, force-fed business model that people never cared about.
Clearly people care about Facebook; they care about the platform that connects them to people they love: their friends and their relationships, news from their social circles, people they’d like to know better or simply keep in touch. They could hardly care less about Facebook pages, Facebook ads, the Facebook business. Sadly, marketers and advertisers, typically the last group to perceive change — and perhaps the most dependent on ‘convention’ (make no mistake, Facebook is convention, as is Google), will take a bit longer to ‘wake up’. That Zynga chose to move beyond Facebook is undoubtedly a wake up call and a sign of maturity in an industry that more than often adopts the strategy of others, instead of coming up with its own.