My first access to the Interwebs was via InfiNet in the early 90s. I worked for Landmark Communications at the time and had a brand spankin new 14.4k modem. I remember all my friends and family were on America Online (AOL). I was on Prodigy.
That was back when we loved gifs and hated jpegs. Gifs would fade into view as they were downloaded, jpegs would scan from top to bottom. A 100k image was torture back then – you just went to go get a cup of coffee or went to sleep while things downloaded. You found out about new websites by truly ‘browsing' from one page to the other.
While the web continued to evolve, AOL was battening down the hatches. I could visit websites using Netscape and all my friends on AOL were stuck within the boundaries of AOL. You used AOL Keywords to find things, you didn't browse! As web pages began to take traction, everyone was fleeing AOL – no matter how many free months of service they received via floppy.
AOL responded late in the game and by the time they launched their integrated browser, Netscape was king and no one even used AOL with the exception to get their mail. Remember “You've Got Mail!”? (The UI actually popped that sound up when you did – it wasn't made up in the movies.)
AOL, the king of the networks and guardian to the Internet, couldn't invent fast enough. The bottom line was that AOL couldn't compete with the hundreds of thousands of companies that were starting to put up web pages. Pretty soon, AOL was being used simply to get some free Internet time rather than for the software they had cherished. As people fleed, so did the advertisers and the custom applications built by those advertisers. AOL simply turned into an Internet Provider – and an expensive one with severe limitations in bandwidth and usage.
I've been pretty sarcastic about Facebook for a while now. In my opinion, Facebook is simply the new AOL. They've built out applications, not to expand out, but to keep companies and people within their turf. Anything outside of the Facebook is a threat, and they've already begun to attack.
As it took years to down the giant that was AOL, I'm sure it will take years for Facebook as well. However, I have no doubt in my mind that nothing can compete with entrepreneurial spirit of the planet – not even Facebook. Facebook is the new AOL, but it will only last until something newer, flashier, and fancier comes along and eats its lunch.
Facebook should be embracing integration outside of its walls, not fighting it.
Facebook should learn from AOL.