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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

So Close Yet So Far…or Tribe Dreamt It But Facebook Did It

Posted by direwolff on May 30, 2007

Don’t know if any of you remember the South Park episode where Butters in his Captain Chaos persona struggling to be bad but finding that every prank he thinks of he’s reminded by his little friend that it’s already been done on The Simpson’s. Well, that voice of Butters’ friend saying “The Simpson’s did it!” rang in my head upon hearing the Facebook announcement that they had opened up their APIs. This ringing came from my days at Tribe.net where we were seriously moving down this path at one point. But the ringing was also kind of empty since we were never able to fully realize this vision due to the pragmatic views of a few on the management team who didn’t understand the power of what could be accomplished from this. Sad really.

Just tonight, I decided to go look for the discussion where I broached this topic by way of example in the Social Software Intellectuals tribe, and found the thread as I had expected. Note the foresight in Limbo’s (a particularly active member of the Tribe community) response to my comments at one point in the thread:

Re: Leveraging of social networks into simple stuff

Sat, November 26, 2005 – 8:51 PM

>> conceptually I like what this means fm a del.icio.us perspective, but the
>> context seems more general and less specific to what tribe members
>> would want fm their shared tribes.

which is why open is good. tribe can concentrate on being a great community. delicious can concentrate on being a great bookmark site (or at least on not sucking as bad as they do). and both can benefit from using the other’s platform.

i’d bet that if tribe had a real open interface for the social network and tribe membership data, you’d have had at least one mashup that does this by now. and probably about 20 others that do some useless BS with google maps too :)

How about a few hundred, as Facebook has experienced?

While Marc Canter had espoused this for a long time (and is now working on the next generation of this), it was Brian Lawler who had to really think through the issues around implementing such a platform and began experimenting with making this a reality. At the time, we were watching how MySpace was going about this process with little regard for security allowing just about any javascript widget to be put up. Brian wanted to proceed down the more elegant and secure direction of opening up several dedicated APIs. His approach was the right one, but the lack of support and understanding for what this could enable from our newly recruited “old school” CEO at the time, made any effort here fruitless despite the excellent progress Brian made off the clock, so-to-speak. Well, Facebook did it, and they’re reaping the windfall from this, much as Canter has envisioned it, and much as several folks in the Tribe community had expected it would happen. Even with the nascent widget industry at the time, it would have been the right thing to do as there were plenty of apps that could have benefited from an open social network platform even back in November of 2005, even with less than a million members.

It’s with some relief that I believe that those of us who saw this vision have been vindicated. Sure, we were no Facebook, but where this would have helped create an ecosystem that would have helped grow the Tribe community beyond the where it remained. The impact opening up their APIs has had on Facebook in my opinion, has already put them clearly on a map of elite companies along side Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, MySpace and Salesforce.com. They are now clearly a platform play (funny that they call this the Platform), and will not be easily displaced considering the momentum this is creating for them by leveraging the network effects of all of their partners’ participation.

The real winner in all of this of course is Mark Pincus. While he was no longer directly involved in the daily activities at Tribe, he got to see the beginnings of this from his board seat at Tribe, and will now benefit even more from this as an angel investor in Facebook. He got two bites at monetizing the effect of a platform play, and the second one may yet prove to be the charm.

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2 Responses to “So Close Yet So Far…or Tribe Dreamt It But Facebook Did It”

  1. burtonator said

    I think the negative pressure of myspace actualy helped Facebook here…. I’m not sure Tribe had an evil empire to fight against at the time.

    BTW…… simpsons did it!

  2. p-air said

    Actually, it did have an evil empire…it’s CEO ;)…DOH!

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