Understanding The Facebook Era
by Clara Shih - April 2, 2009 at 11:20am

Guest post by entrepreneur and blogger Clara Shih, who is speaking at Harvard Business School and Web 2.0 Expo this week for the launch of her new book, The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences, and Sell More Stuff (Prentice Hall).

As individual users, we all experience and appreciate Facebook very viscerally -- sharing a photo, wishing someone a happy birthday. As developers and entrepreneurs, we may experience Facebook more tactically, continually optimizing based on new features that become available. What I spent the last year writing about in The Facebook Era is articulating why Facebook is so universally appealing and how it is transforming our culture, behavior, and relationships -- both between individuals as well as between companies and individuals. My hope is with a common language for us to describe these profound changes taking place that we as a developer community can be more strategic about the kinds of applications and businesses we build for this vibrant Facebook ecosystem.

For starters, I challenge you to think about a couple things:

  • Business applications on Facebook. What happens when you bring the power of the social graph to business? I developed Faceforce (now called Faceconnector), an integration between Facebook profiles and Salesforce CRM, in 2007 because I realized that Facebook is CRM for 200 million people around the world. But Faceforce is just the tip of the iceberg. Every business interaction comes down to people - their relationships, their motivations, and mutual trust. Last November, Dave Morin and I collaborated on Force.com for Facebook to make it easier for Facebook developers to access enterprise infrastructure and audiences. What will you build?
  • Trusted identity and the World Wide Web of people. The last decade was about the World Wide Web of information. Today, a World Wide Web of people is emerging, and we are all experiencing the power of trusted online identity and a ubiquitous social graph. With technologies like Facebook Connect, individuals can choose to bring aspects of their identity and friend graph with them to different websites and Web applications. For example, on The Facebook Era website, we have used Facebook Connect to make it easy for people to comment and share with their friends. We also use Connect as a security measure to verify identity when readers are claiming their Facebook ad credit. Purchase of the book (which costs $25) comes with a $25 credit, and we needed to make sure people weren't gaming the system. What do identity and social graph information mean for your application, and where is it appropriate - versus intrusive - to incorporate?

Of course, there are many more issues beyond these which we need to be thinking about. I look forward to hearing your thoughts - and invite you to participate via Facebook Connect on the book's website (and on the Facebook Platform Page). I started out wanting to write a book about business and technology -- The Facebook Era is both of those, but it's also about a sociocultural transformation. Similarly, as developers we cannot be successful thinking only about business and technology - we have to understand the people using our applications and how their behavior and preferences are changing.

In 2007, Clara -- with Facebook engineer Todd Perry's help -- developed Faceforce (now called Faceconnector), an application that integrates Facebook profiles and social graph data into Salesforce CRM, as a weekend project. Clara is currently Director of Social Networking Alliances and Product Strategy at salesforce.com, inc. and blogs at thefacebookera.com.