But I really think the Wall Street Journal nails it, as guest blogger D.E. Wittkower, a philosopher of technology at Old Dominion University, and editor of 'Facebook and Philosophy' and 'iPod and Philosophy' writes today with his assessment that the real value of Facebook is with its 'network value' to people who use its services.
"So much of Facebook’s success has to do with network effects, not with the quality of the site itself. Just as a telephone represents little value to you until and unless people you want to talk to have telephones as well, so too Facebook is valuable to users primarily because a great many other users are also there. Now, surely, there are things Facebook could do that would drive more users away, and there are things that Facebook has done very well, but for the most part we go to the site because of network value (we want to talk with our friends and share pictures with family), not because of intrinsic value (the site itself is good per se).
This gives Facebook something of the character of a utility. We just want it to work, and for the company itself to be as unobtrusive as possible. The only good conversation with your cable provider is no conversation. Nobody likes thinking about their phone plan."
Wow. I've not until today read much about Facebook's service being likened to a utility, but in effect, it is. We are using Facebook for different services - instant messaging, email, photos, video, event postings, fundraising and more. And like a good utility service, as the author above writes, we don't want to have to think about it. It should be there, and just work. When we want it. When we need it.
That raises another question - are investors today buying into a popular Internet service? Or are they buying a long-term utility holding? And if it indeed is, should we be more worried about what we're sharing?
"The monopolistic, public-utility-like aspect of Facebook’s business model of trading on network effects ought to make users concerned that they may be exploited or abused. And so they should be! Where network effects inhibit competition that might otherwise bring about market-based regulation of corporate behavior, we are left with little recourse but to hope that a company will simply choose to treat users fairly."
All in all, it's a great read. Click through to read all his ideas about where Facebook should go next. And use this as your starting discussion point over drinks or dinner with friends on the weekend!