The Threat

The Threat

The point to all this is, whether through invention or through being the last man standing, Facebook is changing the way people use the Web. A few years ago 'Google is the Internet' was a phrase that became popular in corridors of the search giant's Mountain View, California headquarters. Now the same gross generalisation could start being made about Zuckerberg's social networking phenomenon.

The appeal is obvious: why search for information when it can be brought to you by your network of friends. While Google search is reactive, Facebook browsing is proactive alerting you to articles, videos and music you didn't even know existed. It's web surfing for the lazy and even those who do escape its clutches find themselves dragged back by the proliferation of 'Like' and 'Share' buttons across blogs and websites (just look at the top of this page).

So who are Facebook's rivals if not peers like MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and Bebo? They are the established old guard: Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Why? Facebook doesn't make laptops, smartphones or games consoles, it doesn't produce operating systems like Mac OS X or iOS, Chrome OS or Android, Windows or Windows Phone and it has to rely on a tie-in with Microsoft for its newly launched Docs.com productivity software. Should Apple, Google or Microsoft really be losing sleep? In short yes.

The threat is because Facebook doesn't need to be in those sectors to control them. If Zuckerberg pulled Facebook access from any brand of PC or phone that product would struggle. It doesn't need a games console because casual gaming is flourishing on the Facebook API without the need for costly outlay on hardware and titles. Just compare World of Warcraft and its 11m monthly subscribers - a largely stagnant figure since 2008 - to Facebook's FarmVille which has attained 82m active users in a year and is still classed as being in beta.

As for software, if Facebook ditched Microsoft Office Live and produced its own office software akin to Google Docs (buy OpenOffice?) it could carve out a massive chunk of the productivity sector. The same could be said for the launch of an email service which would immediately double the 266m users of the world's largest email provider: Yahoo. Then again, why bother? As Andy pointed out in our second podcast people are already ditching email to communicate primarily using Facebook so why risk starting a service that would take them away from the main site?

Operating systems? Google has taken a great deal of time preaching that the evolution of Cloud Computing will mean ever more stripped down commodity OSes dominated by the web browser. So imagine if Facebook brought out or bought a web browser (I'm looking at you Opera) which had extra Facebook site features if you used it?

Then there are the ads. Facebook member numbers keep rising and Facebook now has the potential to build a bespoke advertising model for each and every member to a level that would give Google nightmares.

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