If you have been anywhere near the internet over the last week or two you will have noticed the big changes coming out of Facebook. First they had smart lists, and then over the last couple of days at their f8 conference they have announced a slew of other initiatives, including deep integration with media players like Spotify and Netflix, richer and more varied share/like buttons, a revamped news feed, and user timelines.
These developments are the latest in a long list of bold moves from the worlds largest website, some of which have been successful (newsfeed, Facebook platform, Facebook credits, Facebook Connect) and some less so, most notably the failed advertising initiative Beacon.
Overall though there has been many more successes than failures and several of these new developments took Facebook to a whole new level. The introduction of the newsfeed changed gave social networks a vibrancy and immediacy that they had previously lacked, the Facebook platform brought a plethora of new apps and use cases and spawned the multi-billion dollar social games market, whilst Facebook Connect and the Like Button have boosted the size and power of the interest graph in ways that we are only just starting to understand, but which are undoubtedly hugely powerful.
Oh, and in the meantime they have grown revenues to an estimated $3.1bn this year with a very respectable 30% profit margin.
It is too early to know whether these new initiatives will work or not. There are some who are complaining that Facebook is getting too complicated (I had some problems myself populating Facebook lists, and sorry to those of you who got an email suggesting I thought you worked at DFJ…), but my gut is that these issues will be ironed out and people will learn to use and love most of the new features. In particular I think more fine grained control over sharing from smart lists will bring huge usability benefits and deep integration with news, music and video services will bring huge discovery benefits.
Most of all though, I’m impressed that Zuckerberg et al have continued their record of bold innovation. Most companies start feeling that they have got too much to lose when their turnover gets to $50-100m and choosing the safe options.