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This is not, on the face of it, a thunderously radical vision, but it's turning out to be an incredibly powerful one. Consider: in 2005 one of the most competitive markets on the Internet was photo sharing. Into this space charged Facebook, and it can truly be said that the company brought a knife to a gunfight. "It was possibly the least functional photos product on the Internet," says Bret Taylor, Facebook's chief technology officer. "The resolution of the photos was not good enough to print. There were no real organizing capabilities." Facebook had only one thing the others didn't: people. If you put up a photo of somebody, you could tag that photo with his or her name.
As it turned out, that, more than anything else, was what people wanted. They didn't want to organize their photos by folder; they wanted to organize them by who was in them. As Zuckerberg would say, that's how people parse the world. Facebook launched its crappy photo-sharing service in late October 2005. By 2007 it was getting more traffic than Photobucket, Flickr or Picasa. Now Facebook hosts over 15 billion photos on its site, and people upload 100 million more every day.
This is the modus operandi of Facebook and the ecosystem of developers who create applications for it: move into a market and take it over by making it social, as the in-house parlance has it. They have one big weapon, the social graph, and it's a category killer. Games are another good example. There's a company called Zynga that makes games designed to be played on Facebook. They're laughably simple by today's big-budget, high-concept standards, but they're social. In FarmVille, you can visit your friends' farms. In Mafia Wars you can take a hit out on your friends. Mafia Wars currently has 19 million players. FarmVille has 54 million. Investors value Zynga, which is only four years old, at $5.4 billion. That's more than Electronic Arts, which is the second largest games publisher in the world.
But Facebook is in the process of taking over something even bigger than a market. Even if you're not on Facebook, you may have noticed traces of it here and there across the Web, as if seeds from inside its walled garden had scattered in the wind and taken root. Websites entreat you to log onto them using your Facebook ID the New York Times does, and so do Myspace and YouTube. Tiny cornflower-blue buttons invite you to Like things and Share them on Facebook. Your Facebook membership is becoming the Internet equivalent of a passport: a tool for verifying your identity.
Most people think of Facebook as a way to enviously ogle their co-workers' vacation pictures, but what Zuckerberg is doing is fundamentally changing the way the Internet works and, more importantly, the way it feels which means, as the Internet permeates more and more aspects of our lives and hours of our day, how the world feels.
Right now the Internet is like an empty wasteland: you wander from page to page, and no one is there but you. Except where you have the opposite problem: places like Amazon.com product pages and YouTube videos, where everyone's there at once, reviewing and commenting at the top of their lungs, and it's a howling mob of strangers.
Zuckerberg's vision is that after the Facebookization of the Web, you'll get something in between: wherever you go online, you'll see your friends. On Amazon, you might see your friends' reviews. On YouTube, you might see what your friends watched or see their comments first. Those reviews and comments will be meaningful because you know who wrote them and what your relationship to those authors is. They have a social context. Not that long ago, a post-Google Web was unimaginable, but if there is one, this is what it will look like: a Web reorganized around people. "It's a shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends," says Sandberg. "It doesn't matter if 100,000 people like x. If the three people closest to you like y, you want to see y."
Now take it off the Web. Put it on TV. Imagine a slate of shows sorted by which of your friends likes them, instead of by network. Now put it on your phone. Take it mobile. "We have this concept of serendipity humans do," Zuckerberg says. (The clarification is vintage Zuckerberg.) "A lucky coincidence. It's like you go to a restaurant and you bump into a friend that you haven't seen for a while. That's awesome. That's serendipitous. And a lot of the reason why that seems so magical is because it doesn't happen often. But I think the reality is that those circumstances aren't actually rare. It's just that we probably miss like 99% of it. How much of the time do you think you're actually at the same restaurant as that person but you're at opposite sides so you don't see them, or you missed each other by 10 minutes, or they're in the next restaurant over? When you have this kind of context of what's going on, it's just going to make people's lives richer, because instead of missing 99% of them, maybe now you'll start seeing a lot more of them."
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