5 Social Platform Predictions for 2010

Leading Social Platforms

As many of you know, I'm a big proponent of open platforms and have spent much of my career designing, building, or leveraging open platforms and APIs. While we have seen explosive growth in social platforms over the past several years, I believe they are still very early in their history.

I wanted to put out my 5 social platform predictions for 2010, as I think we are poised to see another exciting year of innovation.

Facebook & Twitter become the social and real-time protocols of the web.
There is no doubt that Facebook and Twitter have become the de facto social and real-time platforms of the web. I'm not going to argue which service will win because I strongly believe there is room for both as they serve important and separate functions. But I think both will see the next evolution of their dominance. We've already witnessed the transition of these services from valuable end-user apps to compelling platforms serving thousands of scenarios through a strong platform ecosystem. The next leg of this evolution will be transform to ubiquitous protocols that underlie all major social and real-time scenarios across the web. We will start to think of Twitter as a micro-messaging protocol just as we think of existing communication protocols like SMS and IM. Facebook will become the universal address book protocol for connecting and sharing with everyone in our lives. The unique aspect of this transition if successful is that each of these new protocols will be owned by one dominant player. This is a scary reality that we may soon be faced with.

Facebook taxes the value creation happening on top of its platform.
Facebook has seen incredible growth in 2009, reaching over 350 million users worldwide. In addition to strong user growth, they have seen equally exciting platform growth. App growth specifically in social gaming has been coupled with strong monetization for large and small app makers alike. The platform ecosystem's aggregate revenue is rumored to have exceeded Facebook's own revenue. While Facebook has fully embraced this in order to further its priority of platform growth over platform monetization, I think we'll start to see a shift towards Facebook looking to capture more of the value being created on top of its platform. Facebook already makes a significant portion of it's advertising dollars from app developers promoting their games. And Facebook has spent much of 2009 developing it's own virtual currency platform that would provide an easy and efficient way for Facebook to tax it's app developers. Look for this to launch in 2010.

LinkedIn's professional networking platform sees significant app innovation.
LinkedIn made it's first foray into apps in Oct 2008 when it launched it's on-site InApps platform. This platform allowed third party developers to build applications on LinkedIn. However, it was a completely closed platform that was never made generally available to developers and never grew past 13 available applications. Then a year later in Nov 2009 LinkedIn finally opened up it's platform for third parties to leverage it's data on apps on their own sites. The platform is still in the early days and has many limitations, but does pave the way for real innovation leveraging the valuable professional networking data repository LinkedIn has built. With this true opening I expect to finally see significant app innovation, despite it being plagued with delays until now. But better late than never, since LinkedIn stills holds an incredibly valuable data set with tons of untapped scenarios.

API monetization becomes an important question for emerging platforms.
API monetization remains at it's infancy. While there are APIs that are currently being monetized, what the customer is typically paying for is access to a restricted data set more than anything else. This rings true for Twitter and it's monetization of it's real-time data with Google and Microsoft, with the licensing deals LinkedIn struck with various partners which leverage it's professional resume data, or Compete with it's click-stream aggregate site analytics data. We are starting to see the freemium business model apply to APIs as well, with Compete, Urban Mapping, and Whitepages offering free and paid API offerings. In 2010 we'll start to see the discussion of API business models come to the forefront and I expect to see progress across the various models.

OAuth WRAP gains popularity over the original protocol.
The OAuth protocol has been a very important specification that has resulted in true standardization of API authentication across social, media, and other APIs. This has made the task of integrating third party APIs simpler for the developer, thus allowing a developer to interact with more APIs than ever before. Yet one thing that continues to be an extremely confusing aspect of the OAuth protocol is the signature authentication process. While it is standardized in the spec, we've seen a variety of slightly different implementations that have made it difficult for developers to get started with a new API. Just take a look at the LinkedIn API forum, where much of the discussion is around this authentication process. Twitter has kept around non-OAuth based authentication to make it easy for developers to get started without having to get bogged down with the OAuth details. Yet OAuth WRAP solves this very pain point by leveraging SSL for the authentication and removing the need for the developer to manually implement the authentication step. We'll see OAuth WRAP or a variant gain traction to further ease developer pain in this space.
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