Facebook will succeed on mobile, just not with the Facebook app.

Social media is to Facebook what online search is to Google: just the tip of the iceberg. Understanding this makes it a lot easier to see how Facebook, despite it’s clunky mobile app, can actually end up dominating the mobile environment.

Google started as just a search engine and soon enough Sergey Brin and Larry Page realized the potential of adding advertising to the website. But what made Google’s advertising platform so big and profitable was the strategy to make Internet users never leave Google’s umbrella, far beyond search. It’s the combination of the search engine with Ad Words / Ad Sense, and Gmail, YouTube, Analytics, Drive, Blogger, Apps for Businesses, Maps, Chrome, and a lot more. Google has a wide catalog of products and services to cover the needs of every kind of Internet user, from those wanting to watch cat videos to developers trying to create the next big thing or business trying to earn millions. And Google makes money from all of them.

That’s exactly what Facebook is trying to do in mobile. They know how difficult it is to make more people see more ads on the Facebook app, so instead of bringing users to the Facebook app they are bringing Facebook to everywhere else in your phone, like Instagram and Whatsapp. But they are also bringing Facebook to app developers to make it easy to create the next big thing (with Parse or Facebook Login) and to businesses trying to ear millions (with App Ads and Payment Methods). Instead of getting the revenues of just running ads on the Facebook app, they are after the revenues of developing, promoting and monetizing any app. Add to all that (and all the data coming from there) Facebook’s own advertising platform, and you have a company with the same power and size than Google.

You can read a much deeper analysis of Facebook’s strategy and plans for the next decade in Fast Company’s article Facebook’s Plan To Own Your Phone.

What should social media be like

The best thing about the Internet is that it’s an open network. You can just connect your computer, open your browser and see any website you want -except if you are using some versions of Internet Explorer. You can open your email client or web-mail service, and email anybody you want as long as you have their email address. And of course you can create your own browser or email client knowing that, following the existing standards, it will work.

This quality of the Internet, its openness, is so important we fight fiercely against any attempt to kill it (SOPA, PIPA, Ley Sinde, Hadopi… you name it). Yet we are letting social media destroy the openness of the Internet by creating closed platforms that get so big you can’t just leave them.

Imagine that you could only call or send and SMS to those friends who have the contracts with the same provider than you do. Or that Gmail users could only email Gmail users. That’s exactly what happens with most social media platforms: you need to have Facebook to interact with your Facebook friends, WhatsApp to talk to your WhatsApp friends, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Skype, Google+, Messenger, BBM, iMessage… there is even a whole business of services like Hootsuite or Sproutsocial just to manage all your profiles from one place!

Think about it. How much time do we waste keeping all those profiles up to date and checking if any friend posted something somewhere? How many people would like to quite Facebook but can’t because all their friends and literally 10 years of their life are already there? What’s the point of uploading all your pictures and tagging everyone if sooner or later that platform is going to be done, closed and forgotten? How on Earth are you going to try something new if first you need to convince all your friends to try it too so it actually makes sense to use it?

I believe the need of supreme power and control that companies like Facebook or Google feel is killing our relationship with the Internet. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have your personal profile in a way that you can do whatever you want with it? Just think of a supercharged email system. Some kind of standard format to keep your digital history (posts, links shared, images posted, profile picture, contacts…) in one place, and do whatever you want with it. So if I like Facebook but you are done with it and want to try Google+ we can still be friends and talk to each other without both having to keep two accounts in different places.

This system would also be tremendously beneficial for new businesses. Instead of having to steal millions of users at once from other platforms you could go ahead and create your own system, conquering users one by one. Platforms focused on design and customization, platforms based on ease of use and strong privacy settings, platforms supported by advertising, platforms where users have to pay to keep their accounts…. we could have specialized platforms for small niches with specific needs, something that currently is just unthinkable because it’s not a sustainable business -and because it doesn’t make sense if you can’t talk with everybody else.

In brief, the idea is that with a standardized social media environment the possibilities would be endless. As they always have been with the Internet, and as they should always be.

What do you think?

Duckduckgo for iPhone

Since I decided to open myself to search engines other than Google, I have fallen in love with Duckduckgo. Not only because of the privacy features that high rocketed its popularity after the NSA scandal, but also because of the nice layout, the customizable settings, the lack of advertising of other Google services and the fact that the logo is a weirdly drawn duck. So I was really happy to find the free Duckduckgo app for Android and iPhone. What I didn’t expect was that the app would be so well conceived. I guess I expected just an option to set Duckduckgo as the default search engine (I momentarily forgot that I now have an iPhone and can’t really change things), but this is much more.

duckduckgo app
Duckduckgo app – homepage

When you open the app you get a search bar and a feed of popular articles from a wide list of sources that you can manage. You won’t be able to add new sources, but you can toggle on and off which ones you want from a long list planned to keep you in the loop. To give you an idea, this is what I have activated right now: CNN, BCC, AlJazeera, Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, New York Times, The Guardian, several Reddit feeds, The Atlantic, Medium, Digg, MIT, Slashdot, Ars Technica, Lifehacker, Smithsonian, The New Yorker and The Verge. All these sources are categorized in technology, news, sports, politics, lighthearted, business and a few other categories so you can easily choose what you want to read about. You can also suggest new sources that might get included in the list.

Now, what is really cool about Duckduckgo as a news aggregator is the social factor. What you’ll see from all these sources is their most popular stories: most shared, more active, more emailed, those that reach #1, etc. It really gives you the pulse of what is going on in the world, plus it has a neat option to boost stories related to one region (I set it to “Canada, english”). You can also save articles to read them later, share them straight from Duckduckgo via SMS, email and Twitter, and you can also copy the link or open it in Safari.

In brief, Duckduckgo for iPhone is a complete search, browser and news aggregator app. It makes me feel Internet portals might be back, because it made me realize how much of a pain is to keep jumping from one app to another to read, search or share information when using a mobile device.