Resistance is futile: Facebook assimilates MySpace

In a banner week, the Facebook Borg ended email, played footsie with Microsoft, sent Google a Bronx cheer, and killed MySpace

Last week, in a heated public rendition of the pot calling the kettle black, Google and Facebook traded barbs in an ongoing data-sharing dispute. Facebook won the round, scarfing up Google contact data with impunity. Google had no choice but to stand by as its data got sucked into Facebook, wailing as the data faded away, "Are you supersure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won't let you get it out?"

Facebook kicked off this week sounding the death knell for email. In a rather ill-defined extension of instant messaging into the territory currently held by email, its Facebook Messaging merges IM, SMS, email, Skype, and The Wall in ways that (to me, at least) aren't yet clear. InfoWorld's Bill Snyder calls it "the worst idea of the year... bad for the privacy of users and for corporate IT."

Are you getting this mental picture of Captain Picard and the Borg in "Star Trek: First Contact"?

Borrowing a hymn from the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" choir book, Microsoft worked with Facebook to bring Office Web Apps integration to Facebook Messaging. Microsoft bought 1.6 percent of Facebook three years ago, in yet another example of Ballmer betting on the right horse, so a bit of cooperation isn't unexpected.

To use Microsoft's example (with a bit of poetic license), when you're looking at your friend's new pug on Facebook, you may suddenly be struck with the need to assemble an Excel spreadsheet on pug pieces. Crank up Excel, put together the spreadsheet, send it to your friend via Facebook Messages, and your friend can actually [irony alert] view the contents of the spreadsheet inside Facebook, using Office Web Apps, without having to double-click on the file and see it in Excel or the Excel viewer. Imagine -- ain't technology amazing? [/irony alert]

That astounding feat is considered by some to be a frontal assault on Google, Gmail, and Google Docs. I have no idea why. But assimilating technology is what the Borg is all about, and you can add Office docs from the Evil Empire to the list, if you don't mind a mixed movie metaphor.

Now comes word that MySpace has fallen over and surrendered its meager market share to the Borg. Officially, it's a "mashup" that lets MySpace customers use Facebook Connect to log in. Anyone who goes through Facebook to MySpace has all of their information sucked into Facebook (to the extent allowed by the MySpace privacy settings). MySpace says it wants to be the "leading entertainment social destination." The reality is that News Corp's MySpace has given up, throwing all of its information -- er, make that all of your information -- into the Borg. Rupert Murdoch didn't get a fair dinkum Ozzie penny.

The Facebook juggernaut carries a critical mass that other social networks can't match. Windows Live Spaces didn't make it, either. Facebook's starting to look like a monopoly.

Tim Wu at the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece last week decrying the existence of monopolies that control pieces of the Internet. "Most of the major sectors today are controlled by one dominant company or an oligopoly. Google 'owns' search; Facebook, social networking; eBay rules auctions; Apple dominates online content delivery; Amazon, retail; and so on."

While I agree with much of what Tim says, it's hard for me to get worked up about any of the Internet monopolies, including Facebook. Why? Because the businesses are changing at Internet speed, and we Internet consumers are a fickle bunch.

Five years ago, you had to be a university student to get on Facebook. Four years ago, Twitter didn't exist, at least not as we know it now. I can't think of any other industry, ever, that exhibits the kind of dynamic change we're seeing right now. This much I can guarantee: Five years from now, several companies we've never heard of will carve out big chunks of the Internet pie. Ten years from now, we won't even recognize the pie.

That was this week. As for next week, rumor has it that Facebook and Twitter are talking, and the Googlies are oogling Groupon.

Who says resistance is futile?

This article, "Resistance is futile: Facebook assimilates MySpace," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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