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Facebook: Friend or Foe to App Developers?

Michael Arrington today wrote about Facebook's new birthday reminder tool and it's impact on app developers in that space... and despite it's seemingly silly topic, it is a very important article because it shows the following: - Applications and their developers are test-beds for Facebook innovation...

- Ultimately though, Facebook controls the product experience AND is capable of making competing apps irrelevant by creating an in-house, native version

- Furthermore, Facebook has (and rightly so) shown a willingness to create native products based on 3rd party innovation. Wall, video and messaging improvements are a great example.

- Consequently, third parties developing on Facebook and third parties cultivating audiences on Facebook *must* be aware that ultimately these users and the greater platform are Facebook's.

You must always ask yourself the common friend-vs-foe question and whether you are creating a defensible, meaningful experience able to live on its own.

Facebook Apps 3rd Parties

Facebook just added another extremely useful feature for users, and in doing so took out a slew of applications that do that same thing. You can now get a weekly email telling you, simply, which friends have birthdays coming up.

That’s good news for all of us who want more birthday information. It’s bad news for Birthday Alert and its clones that already do that on Facebook. Birthday Alert has 180,820 active monthly users...

The title of this post is meant to be a joke, but it definitely sucks to be one of the very many birthday reminder Facebook apps today. Such is life. With a flick of the keyboard Facebook can make your app redundant and pointless. Meanwhile, I happily turned on the new feature, and I can’t wait to be prompted to send people virtual birthday gifts for a small fee.

The Season of Blockbuster Deals: Web 2.0 vs. The NBA

2008 has already seen a flurry of massive deals on the web and the hardwood basketball courts. So which has had the more eventful and impactful month? Let's compare:

LA Lakers Acquire Paul Gasol Microsoft Acquires Danger

The Lakers have had a terrific 2007-2008 NBA season, but with Andrew Bynum's recent injury, lacked front-court muscle... so they made one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history: exchanging Kwame Brown and some other throw-ins for Paul Gasol. The Spurs were so upset (and scared) by the trade, that they cried foul to the league and the press (think Google's reaction to Microsoft / Yahoo). The Lakers improved themselves so drastically and so unexpectedly, that the West's top two teams reacted with their own blockbuster trades.

Microsoft has Apple-envy. Their mp3 and mobile efforts haven't been nearly as successful as the crew in Cupertino... and while the iPhone has already moved ahead of Windows Mobile, MS realizes that they have to improve their web presence if they are to win the mobile battle. Meanwhile, Yahoo is launching new mobile products and Google has their own vaunted mobile strategy launching shortly. Danger is the oft-forgotten design company that created the very-slick Sidekick - and if MS is to play with the big boys, Danger could be the right player.

Winner: I love the Microsoft acquisition, but the Lakers got away with the most lopsided trade in NBA history... Not only is Gasol is terrific, but he came at no cost.

Phoenix Suns Acquire Shaq Microsoft Offers to Acquire Yahoo

Less than a week after their bitter rival acquired Gasol, the Suns made one of the NBA's largest and most surprising trades: swapping All Star Shawn Marion (and Marcus Banks) for Shaq. Shaq is one of the all-time NBA greats (he has four championship rings), but is on the decline (see Yahoo). Meanwhile, Phoenix is rolling with the West's second best record, but needed to rid themselves of Shawn Marion (selfish and egotistical) while adding a force down-low (Shaq). The Suns have been criticized for such a drastic move (see Microsoft) - but they realized that playoff basketball is far more physical and they believe that, with the right team, Shaq still has plenty of gas left (see Yahoo).

Microsoft is the perennial power who can't seem to win on the web (MS:Phoenix as Google:San Antonio)... so they took a gamble on an aging brand that, despite it's recent decline, is still one of the web's top destinations. It's a massive gamble - MS is effectively saying that, while neither they nor Yahoo can compete with Google directly, they are a worthy competitor if combined. Google clearly is scared (see Dallas Mavericks) and rushed to issue a public statement and woo Yahoo's search business.

Winner: Both moves have been remarkably criticized... but at the end of the day, Shaq's $20mm/yr salary comes off Phoenix's book in two years. If a MS / Yahoo merger is a disaster, that likely won't come off the books for ages.

Dallas Mavericks Move to Acquire Jason Kidd Google Rumored to Acquire Bebo

The Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets agreed in principle to trade aging superstar Jason Kidd for budding star Jason Terry (and several salary dumps). The move was clearly reactionary (and perhaps rash) as their competition got much better in the matter of a few days. The Mavericks traded the future for the present - a risky proposition for web tycoon Mark Cuban. Meanwhile, the Nets did well in the trade as it affords them the ability to completely rehaul their team by dumping salaries and effectively buying future flexibility. **The trade is being held up because Devean George has refused to play in New Jersey

Google is rumored to be acquiring social network Bebo for $1B. If the Mavericks moved to acquire their own superstar as a response to moves by LA and Phoenix, Google supposed acquisition of Bebo would be a response to the massive success of Facebook (who has a deal with Microsoft) and the still-growing-strong MySpace (owned by NewsCorp). Google has Orkut - but Bebo is larger, sexier, and recently opened their own platform (which I love by the way).

Winner: Neither deal is complete, but I am not sold that Jason Kidd is a fit with the Mavericks. Meanwhile, Google has struggled to monetize MySpace and is releasing their Open Social platform... owning Bebo would enable them to improve monetization on social-networks and give Open Social a huge launching pad.

5 Up, 5 Down - Loving FriendFeed, Bebo, Podcasts, WordPad and Amazon

What I'm Loving: FriendFeed: Brilliantly simple and effective.

Bebo: started using it for Widgetbox purposes, but I have been very impressed by the quality of the site and their new open platform (which I actually prefer to Facebook's). I actually think that Bebo takes the best of Facebook and the best of MySpace - not too clean and not too dirt. Also - rumors just broke that Bebo was acquired for $1b)

iTunes Podcasts: Can't stand the interface (and I'll continue to complain to my Apple friends until it's updated)... but I am addicted to podcasts and rarely listen to music these days.

Notepad and WordPad: I find myself doing my writing and note-taking in notepad and wordpad. It's light-weight and simple... much the same reason I use GTalk. And the more I work with html files and ftp, the more troublesome MS Word becomes.

Amazon: If you know me well, you know I love Amazon (easily my favorite website). This past week I've bought: rechargable batteries, dog toys, dog food, cereal, razors and more on Amazon. They all arrived in 24 hours and cost less than buying them at Safeway.

What I'm Not Loving:

Google Analytics: Why can't I receive real-time updates? I'd be willing to pay for that... And why not at least timestamp the last update?!

Yelp: I thought it was just me, but other friends noted similar behaviors - I'm starting to sense that the quality of reviews is dropping rather significantly... troubling trend if true.

Netflix: Feels like it hasn't been updated in ages. The finding experience was once cutting edge but now utterly useless. Try finding upcoming titles within a specific genre (ie Blu Ray) - I dare you.

SideStep: Not a direct comment on SideStep because I love the UI / UE... but as more lower-cost airlines refuse to integreate with the aggregators (Jetblue, Southwest, etc), I find sites like SideStep less useful.

Elance: I love Elance - but I am not loving their new site design. Great example of a redesign that is so radically different that it shocks users accustomized to the old design. This may be a better site design, but it is so inconsistent that I find the site unusable!