A few things Mark Wallace

Month: June 2012

Facebook vs. the Virtual World, Round 2: Function Over Form

Cloud Party, a virtual world on FacebookIt looks like Facebook is winning this round: I wrote a few weeks ago for Wired about Facebook “killing” the virtual world, and was met by a great deal of skepticism about whether Facebook could become a meaningful platform for 3D social experiences (even though they’re already taking place in the Facebook-based game space). Now comes news from one of the skeptics (my friend James Au) that there’s a very Second Life-Like virtual world available on Facebook! It’s called Cloud Party, and it’s apparently not too shabby, though still early in development.

It will be interesting to see what kind of traction this gets. In large part, it will depend on how well integrated with Facebook it is. One of Second Life’s greatest failings was its complete inability to stay integrated with — or at times even aware of — what was happening on the Web. If Cloud Party can evolve to support people’s lives on the Web and on Facebook, it could be very interesting. If it attempts to create another hermetically sealed experience with no compelling reason to engage, it will languish.

More interesting still is the question of whether a 3D social environment like this can thrive on Facebook at all. Even if Cloud Party doesn’t prove a success, subsequent offerings might well do so. (It’s rarely the first mover who wins the day.) My off-the-cuff opinion is that it won’t work — at least, not until there’s some meaningful and widely appealing affordance offered that Facebook doesn’t include. In other words, I’m arguing for function over form here. Two things need to be in place for a 3D social space like this to flourish:

  • It needs to offer functionality that its platform or channel (be it Facebook or the Internet) doesn’t offer
  • That functionality needs to be something that a very large number of people want but aren’t currently able to obtain

I don’t buy the contention that 3D social interaction around user-generated content is that killer feature. So I’m scoring this round for Facebook once again.

Channel and Content: Facebook vs. the Virtual World

Uberstrike: Kill your virtual friends on FacebookI had the pleasure a few days ago of writing a piece for Wired magazine’s Opinion site on How Facebook Killed the Virtual World (which you can feel free to go and read, if you haven’t already — I’ll wait here). It garnered a predictable raft of reactions from virtual world fans. With a title like that, how could it not? But one comment in particular sparked some additional thoughts. Ramzi Yakob wrote:

To be honest, I don’t see how Facebook bears any relevance to MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. You’re effectively arguing that a CHANNEL has the ability to replace CONTENT… which it can’t. The ability to use Facebook as a channel for games isn’t something I’d dispute – whether or not it has the ability to disrupt multi-billion dollar ventures that produce very high quality content is completely ridiculous.

There are some interesting semantic things going on here. I’m not arguing that a channel can “replace” great content. But I am arguing that channels have a great deal of influence in determining what content we consume. And by extension, I’d say that content on its own merits doesn’t have as much power — and that its power wanes as channels mature. This is the “build it and they will come” fallacy of Internet services: it almost never works that way. You have to put an enormous amount of effort into getting your content, no matter how great it is, in front of the people who may want it. And this is something Facebook facilitates very well — so well, in fact, that it is likely having an impact on our patterns of consuming even expensively produced, high-quality content like top-shelf MMORPGs and the like.

I say “likely” because it’s tough to measure, but there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence. And there are definitely plenty of (moderately) happy Facebook investors and newly minted Facebook millionaires who stand very firmly behind the idea (as I do) that Facebook can disrupt enormous and established industries that trade in high-quality content. Spotify (for which a Facebook account is necessary) is a great example of this, as are all the marketing campaigns on all the Facebook pages for all the movies, TV shows, games, and consumer products you’re buying every day.

Below the jump is the response I originally made to Ramzi’s comment: Continue reading


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