Facebook’s core app/feature

Posted by kdow on Jun 23, 2014 8:12:29 PM

Facebook is now a massive company. As is Twitter. While we’re at it, so is Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc. etc. etc.

I had a conversation with someone today. The conversation routed itself towards us asking the seemingly basic question: what is Facebook’s core app?

It seems basic, but it’s not. Facebook has a number of apps out there: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and a few others on various platforms. ‘Facebook,’ as it were, is their core app but when you break down Facebook-as-a-service, Facebook might not actually be their core app.

When you ask the same question of Google, it’s obvious their core app is search. Despite that, Chrome & Gmail are the two apps I use daily more than search in the arsenal of “Google stuff” I use. But it’s oh-so obvious that search is their big app. It bleeds functionality into every single part of what Google build; from Chrome’s universal search bar to Gmail’s own search box.

Similarly Microsoft’s core app is Windows, and Apple’s is… well, that’s another debate but we sorta-kinda agree’d that Apple’s core app is the Mac (as opposed to OS X). That’s a whole other blog post, though.

So if we tip-toe back to Facebook: what’s their core app? It’s not search. Their search still sucks and isn’t even available to most people. It’s not messenger (as useful as it is) because they just bought WhatsApp. It’s not Instagram because it’s not intrinsic to Facebook enough (yet). If you break out what makes Facebook Facebook, you end up somewhere between news feed & timeline.

I bet if you ask Zuckerberg he’d say timeline is their core app. It’s where you collect your life story. It’s what people interact with. But I bet if you ask Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s enigmatic COO) she’d tell you news feed is their core app, because that’s where the ads — and hence, revenue — goes.

In my view, Facebook is simply playing a very clever game with what the core app or feature is for them. Facebook is, and always has been, a platform. It’s only now that this is taking shape. Zuckerberg’s vision was always to make a platform where people talk about the stuff they’re doing. But slowly, Facebook is also becoming a platform where people do that stuff.

They’ve built a virtual moat of apps and features that sit around the news feed, updating constantly with you & your friends’ activities as well as what they think of those activities. They’re somewhat defining social media in a way Twitter has stopped even trying to. Everyone on Facebook is intrinsically connected, so the timeline has to be relevant (right?). Okay, Facebook imposes some weird algorithms to determine what you should see first, and more often than not that screws things up. But on a simplistic level, Facebook is pure, distilled social media. All of the other apps are just conduits to that social experience on timeline.

So by my reckoning, timeline is the core app of Facebook.