The new Timeline, Facebook and why this isn’t Semantics: a short analysis

I am sitting right now on a train from Vienna to Munich writing this on iA’s Writer for iPad (terrific writing app) and thinking about yesterday’s announcements from Facebook while trying to arrange them in human readable form ie. this blog post. I’m also trying to find a good title.

And yes, I already did enable the new Timeline through the, already notorious by now, developer work-around. And no, Facebook is not making its way into the internet of things — nor is it becoming one, nor is even close to the Semantic Web. Why? More on this in a minute.

Change the verbs, change the world

Facebook is transforming itself right from its core. Last year it was all about like. What you like; pages, people, things, articles and blog posts — everything. Today it is about do. What you do — and… serendipity. You’re not sharing — you are doing. Running, eating, watching, and the list goes on and on. Optionally with whom and where. Its core, though, is the “do” factor.

This like to do transformation shifts Facebook from a website to a hub. You login, you see what people are doing, or did, optionally you stalk. It’s not about sitting in front of the computer and hitting “Share” on a YouTube video. It’s about getting out to jog, which is shared (if you’re having the Nike app, that is.)

Not your typical profile

Facebook is now a life stream only better. Richer, interactive, and you can create things atop and with it (Hello, API + Open Graph.) Mark wants us to share everything. “One Mark to rule us all.”

Your profile is not a profile anymore. It is you. You, you, you. Right on from when you were born, up until your very latest activity. Your e-go (see the pun here, yeah, I’m that smart-ass.) Until Google+’s next major update, Facebook has won the identity war in the Internets, plus many more other things.

Google’s on fire, caught on sleep

Sadly for Google, Google+ is out of competition now. In its current form is fighting with the old Facebook, the moment where it started getting some serious user base (estimated at 40M.) Despite that it became a heaven for spammers and totally random people (I mean, I get circled even by plumbers with their contact and work availability information public, etc). So unlucky and unfortunate, but, hell, this is life.

What Google has to do is still, for me at least, unclear. One thing is sure: they have to innovate. Heavily. As MG Siegler said, Facebook skated to where the puck will be — or even better, Facebook kicked it there while everyone else still tries to skate to where the puck was. I’m talking to you, Google et al. A nice typical Apple move.

Semantics and why Facebook simply isn’t it

To get a gist of what actually the Semantic Web is read this very short older post of mine.

In a very naïve approach one could argue that Facebook’s upgraded Open Graph is a step closer to Semantics or even it is Semantics. But I think this approach is false.

Firstly, Facebook is a very closed ecosystem, a web-ish Apple, that doesn’t plan any time soon on opening up. This is neither necessarily bad or good. It is simply Facebook’s strategy. But this isn’t Semantics. Semantics need open environments, open data, to fully be sustainable and grow.

Secondly, Semantics is not about who does what or having <objects> in your code. Semantics is about linked data (don’t know what linked data is? Watch Tim Burners-Lee’s TED talk and call-out to everyone to open his data.) It is about describing the world, objects, things, data — describing and naming the relationships between anything. From human to human relationships to human to objects et cetera. Based on Wittgenstein’s question, the foundation of contemporary Western Philosophy, “Does the world make sense or do we make sense of the world?”

Thirdly, Facebook can’t become the Semantic Web because of Mathematics. Let’s do a bit of Venn diagrams. Facebook is a web, it is not the web, not everyone on the web is registered in Facebook that is , only a handful of 750M people. The web is much bigger. Not every device that can be connected to the web can be connected to Facebook. Plus, as already discussed, Facebook is not open to communicate with with its data.

Schematically, (click for full-size)

Facebook Set Theory

If you can’t figure out my writing read it here: [1] denotes people who use things. [2] denotes people who have internet, axiomed in: you can’t have internet w/o a human (who would create the internet if humans = 0?) and a thing (eg. router), and [3] denotes Semantic Web. People + things + internet, assuming it will push industries to make connected things. The “→” trend goes (will, actually) up until 100% things = connected things. This graph was a quick response to @manogr as we discussed this on Twttr. So it may contain math errors. So can my argument based on Set Theory. Feel free to point them out. But I think you get the point. (another pun? Oh.)

Recap, not a TL;DR

Facebook did innovate. A lot. And this is very good, for everyone. Facebook also transformed itself and the web — again. From like to do, Facebook is now about sharing everything, not only web & media (club photos, videos, etc) related. Google+ is left behind. Just in a day, Mark and team made it to look obsolete. Google has to innovate too, otherwise it’ll lose again the social web game, as it did several times before. And this time it will be such a pity, since Google+ is really good. And a call for Semantics: open your data!

Additional discussion, upvotes, downvotes and other fun things for this post over at Hacker News.

posted: September 24, 2011
under: Mathematics, Web

11 Responses

  1. Giorgos says:

    Sometimes i just love your posts. It’s one of those times. :)

  2. George says:

    Amazing post! Well done!
    I think it’s so good because of Vienna’s air your breathing there :-)

  3. George says:

    I meant “[…] you’re breathing there”

    (sorry for the 2nd comment, can’t edit the first one)

  4. @kkoolook says:

    Nice one @apas.

    Your post is to the point with a simple but solid analysis on the new shift and comes from a fresh social media perspective. It looks like you’ve had some inspiring days, which gave a clear mind to figure out, analyse and present the current situation so nice.

    Keep it real!

    PS the title tough is, as you said, on the fly, and does not give a hint on what is coming to the main text.

  5. hkalant says:

    I totally agree. Things are really tough for Google now. Google+ loses – that’s for sure.

    I mean, I get circled even by plumbers with their contact and work availability information public, etc.
    Me, too. I don’t even know these people.

    I am not sure if innovation is the solution. Google has to rebuild this circle thing from scratch in order to rejoin the competition.

    p.s. I love your English posts.

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  7. Apostolos says:

    @George, thank you very much.

    @kkoolook, thanks, again — and yeah, the title could be better.

    @hkalant the problem is not Circles. Circles are cool.

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