Google should pull an Android on Facebook

Android’s best weapon against iOS is that it’s a much more open platform. iOS’ elegant user experience comes at a cost – developers have to suffer through approval delays, rejections, private APIs, rules against advertising, and shutdowns. Android, on the other hand is open to carriers, users, and developers.

Facebook developers face two major problems. Firstly, to attract them, Facebook concocted and gave the developers access to artificial virality channels. Then, to prevent spam, they had to take them back. But the enforcement seems capricious and arbitrary to developers, with some (i.e., the offerwall providers) being punished, and some (check a certain game company’s S-1) being rewarded. Secondly, Facebook is still figuring out its own business model, so what’s allowed and what’s not is subject to change – look at the graveyard of social ad companies and payments companies, and the recent introduction and mandates on Facebook credits.

Google should tell developers – “Here’s a simple set of rules that will never change. Here’s a simple API that we will always keep backward compatibility with. Here’s an incentive and a reward for creating an application that brings more users into G+. Here’s a simple and clear way for users to export their information and their social graph. Here’s the standard small cut that we take on everything – it will never go up.”

Right now, the only true open platforms for any startup are email and the web. Android is a close third. Facebook, iOS, SMS, etc., while beautiful and elegant, forget at their peril that there was a time when AOL, Compuserve, WAP, and other walled gardens were beautiful and elegant too.

An army of 100,000 developers is Google’s best chance against Facebook.

16 thoughts on “Google should pull an Android on Facebook

  1. Funny thing you write this, I was having the same conversation and used the same phrase with a friend of mine. I sometimes feel Google is like the China for the internet. As soon as they see something profitable they make a cheaper- read free, better version of that and why wont users like it. Overall its a win win for Google but the rest of the eco-system sorta suffers..

  2. “…there was a time when AOL, Compuserve, WAP, and other walled gardens were beautiful and elegant too.” Totally agree. On the web – open standards always triumph over closed, proprietary ones in the long run (except so far on the desktop OS – but give it time).

  3. “….forget at their peril that there was a time when AOL, Compuserve, WAP, and other walled gardens were beautiful and elegant too.” Profound and tragically correct.

  4. Great post Naval, well articulated and very true.

    Today Zucky was spinning the same line again that he did a few months ago when he co-announced the sFund with KPCB. It goes something like this.

    “I seethe next five years being about social apps built on top of the infrastructure Facebook has built.”

    Ermm.. go tell that to these two people..


    This isn’t cool and goes against everything that entrepreneurship is about.

    C’mon Zinga, you know you want to install your games on Google chrome really… oops!

  5. You have to create problem (and demand for solution) in order to create profit. You cannot profit in efficient system. Having monopoly that profits is the best proof of total inefficiency of the system. That is true with desktop OS system, that is true with smart phones the same way like it was true with PC production… once the system becomes efficient there is no money in it. It becomes like ‘public service’ that nearly generates enough to keep itself running. In Naval’s vision G with its ‘small cut’ is like government with it’s tax once they take over Internet as a public service and those API here are your ‘right’ and it is the same way like government manage roads and put their ‘road signs’ and post their laws that you need approval of the Congress to change them… but at that it becomes reality time we entrepreneurs will go and discover new horizons and some new ‘Wild West’ and pioneer there and Internet businesses will run politicians.

  6. Your prime argument is that Facebook will not be able to compete by being just another social network, since so many are already heavily invested in Facebook. Rather, they should create a significant competitive advantage in a direction that Facebook is inherently unable to counter, due to their DNA structure.

    It is an interesting idea – and similar to what HP tried half-heartedly to do with WebOS – but it remains to be seen if (a) Facebook does not have too much network effect already; (b) Facebook is unable to turn on a dime, i.e. the twists and turns are not embedded in their DNA; (c) Google is able to avoid the waffling themselves, something at which they have not exactly proved adept.

  7. Yeah. It’s pretty clear but it’s also pretty obvious that this is the best strategy.

    It’s been the obvious Achilles heal for Twitter and Facebook for a LONG time now.

  8. Interesting idea. I think, Android had carriers badly wanting to go against Apple. And Google gave the armor for free to them. Who will be the carriers here?

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