Facebook Going HTTPS

Apparently HTTPS is going to be standard for all Facebook users:

As announced last year, we are moving to HTTPS for all users. This week, we’re starting to roll out HTTPS for all North America users and will be soon rolling out to the rest of the world.

Great move, I’m glad they are finally getting to that point. Performance should improve over time as it appears they are on board with SPDY. I think that this will benefit them in the long run. Users win the day it rolls out.

Inside Google’s Data Centers

Google Data Center Storm Trooper

Google’s opening up about their data centers in a pretty big way. From being secret to even the locations a few years ago they’ve now posted a street view tour, as well as some pretty great video. Facebook has also become a bit more open in terms of their data center operations.

Part of this openness is to make the “internet” seem more trustworthy and less intimidating. The other part is to show off the energy-saving improvements they are making in the wake of controversy data centers have faced over their power usage.

I think someone at Google or Facebook needs to get me a tour of their facility ;-) .

QOTD “Facebook is the Microsoft of social media”

Quote of the day goes to Paul Saffo for his opinion piece on Facebook:

Facebook is the Microsoft of social media; used by everyone but truly loved by few.

I’m not sure I 100% agree with the quote, however it does make a valid point about what not to be as a tech company with a huge chunk of the market share. You really want to be the Apple of social media, used by many who absolutely adore you and highly value your product. I’m not sure there’s anyone in social media yet who has achieved that. The closest so far might be Instagram who is now owned by Facebook. Twitter has its loyal users, but many are grumbling over their recent changes and the ever changing app ecosystem.

Paul goes on to say:

Facebook resembles Microsoft in other ways as well. Facebook’s interface is nearly as clunky and inelegant as Windows, and like Microsoft, Facebook is struggling to migrate off the desktop and follow its users onto mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets. Unfortunately, Facebook’s revenue model depends on ample screen real estate in order to please advertisers without annoying users. Ads that can be tolerated on a laptop become a major annoyance when hogging scarce and valuable space on a smartphone.

Facebook can solve for these problems. Facebook will need to move beyond advertising no matter what. Google’s been trying to figure out that problem for a while now. Advertising only gets you so far. Google’s experimented with things like SaaS (Software as a service) via Google Apps. Facebook could potentially bundle up it’s collaboration, authentication, pieces as an alternative to products like SharePoint and Google Groups. Facebook users generally use these things for personal uses, but Facebook apparently utilizes its own features for it’s own purposes all along. There’s not terribly much blocking them from making that a product itself. Facebook also has vast amounts of data and could make itself into a research platform. Both would be viable options and quite frankly could be killer products.

It’s an amazing thing regardless for a company as young as Facebook to be compared to Microsoft. Lets just hope they can avoid the pitfalls that have hit Microsoft in the past decade.

Full SPDY Ahead

For those not keeping score, Twitter, and Facebook have both come out publicly in favor of SPDY. Twitter is already using it in production. It sounds like Facebook will be soon. Mozilla implemented it in Firefox. Opera has SPDY. Google, the author of SPDY is using it in production.

This leaves Microsoft and Apple as the holdouts. Microsoft’s HTTP + Mobility is SPDY at it’s core. Microsoft hasn’t started supporting SPDY in any products, but it seems inevitable at some point. They are a holdout in implementation but not opposed to SPDY it seems.

Apple is the last major holdout. SPDY hasn’t been announced for iOS 6 or Mac OS X 10.8. As far as I’m aware Apple hasn’t made any statement suggesting support or opposition to SPDY. However I can’t see why they would oppose it. There’s nothing for them to disapprove of, other than it’s not using their IP. I’d be surprised if they don’t want to implement it.

However given SPDY is a rather backwards compatible thing to support, I don’t see this holding back adoption. Nginx is adding support for SPDY (thanks to WordPress creator Automattic), and Google is working on mod_spdy for Apache. That makes adoption for lots of large websites possible.

While the details of SPDY and the direction it will go are still in flux, it seems nearly certain that SPDY is the future of the web. Time to start digging into how to adopt it and ease the transition. The primary concerns I see are as follow:

  1. TLS Required – While not explicitly required, SPDY essentially builds on TLS and virtually any real world application needs it. This means purchasing SSL certificates for any website you wish to use SPDY with. Some have argued performance and scalability, but Google, Facebook and Twitter use SSL extensively on commodity hardware.
  2. IP Address – Unless you use Server Name Indication (SNI), which almost no websites do because of compatibility, you need an IP address for every hostname that you use TLS with. That means until IPv6 is widely adopted, it will be putting further strain on the remaining IPv4 pool.

Both of the above concerns increase complexity and cost of building websites at scale and for those who are on a very tight budget (the rest of us will manage). Because of this, I don’t think we’ll see a 100% SPDY or HTTP 2.0 web for quite some time. Don’t expect SPDY for shared hosting sites anytime soon.

In a world of increasing surveillance and user data being integrated into everything, the benefits of TLS will be realized. Both Facebook and Twitter acknowledge it’s importance in preventing user data from getting into the wrong hands.

I, For One, Welcome Our New SPDY overlord.

How Yahoo Killed Flickr

Gizmodo has a great essay on how Yahoo killed Flickr. I think this excerpt is a pretty good summary:

It was a stunning failure in vision, and more or less the same thing happened at Flickr. All Yahoo cared about was the database its users had built and tagged. It didn’t care about the community that had created it or (more importantly) continuing to grow that community by introducing new features.

It’s worth a read. It’s a textbook example of how not to build/manage a product. Yahoo isn’t in it’s current situation by accident or chance. The upside is there’s a bunch of good lessons for everyone inside and outside of Yahoo here.

Love or hate what Facebook is doing, they are essentially the antithesis. Every decision Facebook makes is seemingly about growing the community and features that increase engagement. There are of course many other ways to fail.

The Internet is a network/community of cooperation. If you forget about the network/community factor, you’ve lost.

Was Instagram Worth $1 Billion Dollars?

I think the question “was Instagram worth $1 billion Dollars?” is incorrect. Any form of that question is. The value of any singular thing is in the eye of the buyer, not the market as a whole. The correct question is “was Instagram worth $1 billion Dollars to Facebook?” To that, I think the answer is yes. To any other company, no.

Value is the relative worth of a good. Water is worth nothing when it’s plentiful. It’s priceless when it’s in short supply. This is supply/demand. Companies are slightly different as they aren’t a commodity, there is only one Instagram. The supply is a constant meaning demand is what dictates value. The demand is based on how much another company (or companies) wants to buy it. This decision is based on how well Instagram’s assets, product line, employees, etc. would benefit them. It’s also based on how much it’s worth keeping away from a competitor, and how much it’s worth avoiding having another competitor. Distractions are costly for businesses. Mitigating them has difficult to quantify but significant value.

Product/Value Curve

A basic company works like this: it creates a product with value that it obtained by customers (freemium products make things slightly more abstract, but this still applies). At some point the product runs out of potential customers either because the entire world who wants it has it (think: Facebook, Google), or customers just grow tired of it (think: Yahoo). The way a company keeps up growth is to introduce new products to add value to the company.

In a perfect world every product would achieve maximum potential and a company’s growth would be at worst a diagonal line, consistent and upward moving. or a curve moving upward at an accelerating rate. We know that’s not realistic.

The reality is most companies have lots of overhead when diversifying the product line. Not every product is a winner. The most notable example of this is Google. They have many products, to the point where I bet few if any Googlers know them all. Most however aren’t generating substantial revenue. Sergey Brin has been putting some effort into reducing Google’s product complexities because of this. Google. Apple famously reduced it’s product line when Steve Jobs took back the company and is highly profitable. Facebook has scaled reasonably well as it’s product can essentially be broken down to: communication (direct messaging, broadcasting), photo sharing, contact organizer. This on a graph looks something like this:

Value Curve

Avoid Distractions

Getting back to the topic on hand, what is Instagram worth to Facebook? Facebook needs to keep on or above the line. That means they need to keep rapidly developing and improving products There’s a reason Zuckerberg put an emphasis on “Stay Focused & Keep Shipping“. Instagram was a distraction to Google. It was the only viable competitor to Facebook’s massive photo sharing business.

Flickr stalled long ago, Google can’t figure out Google+ or Picasa. SmugMug et. al. are to small to matter to Facebook. Instagram was the only photo sharing business with growth that could concern Facebook. Avoiding the distraction that Instagram would be is worth a substantial amount to Facebook.

Instagram being bought by someone else could also be a distraction. Keeping it away has a similar value too.

The Future

Facebook has pretty much hit market saturation with its current audience. Facebook is having some trouble in some parts of the world where other social networks have taken hold. To keep growing that means they need to keep growing users. Obviously getting kids to sign up (once they turn 13 thanks to COPPA) is what Facebook needs to keep itself going. Instagram has managed to gain serious traction in the pre-teen market. These are kids who grew up with text messaging and photo sharing. Two of Facebook’s major product offerings. This is a major threat to their future. Why join Facebook and be observed by “friend” parents when you can use your phone (or iPod touch) and remain completely below the radar? Many of them have been doing this for a while now. All they need is WiFi (lots of free SMS apps in App Stores). The incentives to change workflow to Facebook have dropped. Switching over is hard anyway. Just because Child A turns 13 today doesn’t mean all their friends do. Being under 13 on Facebook means fearing being suspended constantly. Facebook purged 20,000 accounts daily in 2011. I’d bet that number is higher now.

These kids have a system of communication that works for them. It’s a very workable system. Facebook isn’t part of that system. That’s a big problem. Buying Instagram means they have a vehicle to convert these new users.

Engineering

Instagram scaled quite well with a dozen employees and managed to build an app that makes photo sharing extremely simple and fun. The app’s workflow for photo sharing makes Facebook look terrible. Buying this up and integrating this is worth a lot to Facebook. Just like FriendFeed gave Facebook some serious engineering chops, this will as well. the Instagram team’s vision and expertise shouldn’t be discounted. Buying a company for its engineers isn’t uncommon these days.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook launches (or rebadges Instagram into) a Messenger like app that focuses on just one of Facebook’s tenets. Instagram’s Facebook integration just needs a little more tweaking and it would work very well. Keeping Instagram communicating with Twitter and Flickr will prevent alienating users.

What Can You Get For $1 Billion Dollars?

A billion dollars is a lot of money for most people, even most companies. But what does it buy? In Microsoft’s case it buys patents and in Facebook’s case it buys a mobile startup.

AOL (Netscape) Patents

Microsoft spent $1 billion dollars on what seems like mostly Netscape patents. Presumably this is to declare war on Google, Apple, and the web at large, which is trivializing the Windows platform.

If this goes through and Microsoft gets this portfolio, it could be damaging to the web. Time will tell what happens here. It’s hard to say as patents, especially tech related are hardly clear what they refer to and are often used against anything that sounds vaguely similar.

This could be ugly.

Instagram

Facebook felt Instagram, a scrappy mobile photo startup was worth $1 billion dollars. Presumably the value was in a dozen employees who can create such a popular and scalable photo community in a short period of time. It’s also about squashing their biggest competitor. Most people don’t realize this but Facebook is a photo site. It’s the biggest photo site. Flickr is essentially dead in the water as Yahoo figures out it’s future. Google hasn’t figured out Picasa. Instagram was Facebook’s only substantial opponent in this space. For $1 billion dollars they bought their competitor.

Long term I don’t see the app surviving. It will be merged in and perhaps Facebook will integrate photo sharing with a few other sites (Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr), but within the Facebook platform. It just doesn’t make much sense to do otherwise. It’s a lot of duplication and the integration between Facebook and Instagram isn’t up to Facebook’s usual seamlessness standard.

Instagram as a business likely wasn’t worth $1 billion. But the benefits of it being Facebook owned likely are.

Facebook’s IPO Filing

There’s not really much to say about Facebook’s IPO filing other than we all knew the day would eventually come. People love to look at the number of users as the measure of the company, but the truth is users come and go, all empires eventually fall. They have since the dawn of man. It’s a terrible measure of what a company has done, and is capable of doing. Eventually market saturation will be reached. It’s unsustainable to grow quicker than the world’s population. Everyone but Wall Street and some tech blogs know that.

What really matters is a company’s DNA. For Facebook that’s the willingness to be agile, the willingness to push things, and the willingness to change. That may occasionally backfire, however it’s proven to generally work out quite well. Especially when Facebook is willing to back down and revise as it has in the past. Mark Zuckerberg’s goal is pretty lofty, especially given the world and it’s people are struggling to figure out privacy in a connected world.

To quote him in 2010: “we’ve made great progress over the last year towards making the world more open and connected”. Balancing this mission and not crossing the line will be the challenge Facebook will face for years to come. I’ve criticized them several times in the past for either not doing enough, or not giving enough priority to the right to control privacy. Lately I’ve got less to complain about. I think that’s good for everyone.

Web App Stores Via Twittter/Facebook

It seems likely to me that Facebook and Twitter will eventually be competing with Apple in terms of App stores. Facebook sort of already is with their extensive apps platform, however that’s just competing for developer attention. Twitter doesn’t really have an equivalent today (developers mainly build clients and interact with data), but don’t underestimate their clout.

The reason I say this is that Facebook and Twitter have become identity gatekeepers on the net. Already you can login to many sites via accounts with one of the two sites. Creating the API’s to handle purchase/subscriptions and transparently handling the billing to effectively turning a HTML5 site into an “app” is the next logical step. They could undercut Apple and still walk away with a handsome profit for not doing terribly much more than leveraging their size and reach. These apps would work on any device with a web browser. Desktop or mobile.

Given both sites need to diversify revenue streams (something Google never figured out), it seems only logical to make this step. $0.99 for Angry Birds seems more than plausible.

And yes, there are offline abilities in a browser.

Googlebot on Facebook?

I’ve got a few Facebook Applications I’ve played around with developing that are not actually for use (read: they do nothing). I’ve noticed over the past few days their canvas URL’s are seeing traffic in the form of 1 hit approximately every 24 hours. Previously they saw no traffic at all. At first I thought this was just Facebook with some new process to check for malicious apps, which sounds like a good idea. Then I did some digging and found something surprising:

The first thing I found was the hostname where the request originated was out-sw251.tfbnw.net which is obviously owned by Facebook. That’s not terribly interesting and supports my theory up above.

Then I found these two curious bits in the request:

X-FB-USER-REMOTE-ADDR: 66.249.67.211
USER-AGENT: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)

That IP address is crawl-66-249-67-211.googlebot.com. That UserAgent is very telling and needs no introduction.

The request is otherwise pretty unremarkable other than no query string which a normal person would generate when hitting that canvas URL. However fb_sig_request_method is set to GET which suggests to me it’s actually using POST despite that what it claims. There’s no fb_sig_user or anything else that would suggest an actual user, which makes sense because fb_sig_logged_out_facebook is set to 1.

It appears as of March 20, 2011 Google has started crawling Facebook Apps. I’ve got no idea what it’s intent, abilities or relationship is. I can tell you that I’ve monitored since at least April 2010 and this only started a few days ago.