Name me a company that:
a) Has a popular platform for software that's making some developers rich,
b) Is generating millions in revenue from said platform,
c) Boasts legions of customers who some might call addicts, and
d) Ranks as the world's most innovative.
Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , right? Close. The Mac maker was third in Fast Company magazine's 2010 rankings of the world's most innovative. But topping the list was Facebook, an online nation of 400 million. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) was second and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) fourth.
Most other tech leaders lagged. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) fell from sixth to 14th. Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO ) fell from fifth to 17th. And Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) almost went missing, falling from 34th to 48th.
400 million people can't be wrong, right?
Interestingly, Fast Company's rankings distinguished Facebook as more than just a benefactor of 2009 being the Year of Social Media. This isn't merely a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats sort of story, senior writer Ellen McGirt argues.
"Having all but vanquished MySpace, and pushing Twitter ever closer to becoming a mere utility for ego-streaming, Facebook lords over the social-media landscape, with no pretenders in sight," McGirt wrote.
I'm not sure I'd agree that Twitter is trending toward irrelevance. Even so, the numbers tell a fascinating story: Facebook's reported $11 billion valuation is over 10 times that of Twitter's $1 billion.
More importantly, with each passing day, Facebook is looking more like Apple. And not just because CEO Mark Zuckerberg gets astonishingly close to the black turtleneck stylings of Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in this goofy photo, courtesy of Kara Swisher of The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsDigital blog. (Zuckerberg is at the far right.)
No, it's not CEO fashions but the businesses that are matching up nicely. Revisit our opening checklist with me:
- Just as the iPhone has bestowed fortunes upon some enterprising creators of games for the device, Facebook has transformed Zynga, creator of the hit games Farmville and Mafia Wars, into an IPO prospect. Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) recently bid at least $275 million for Zynga's closest peer: Playfish.
- Apple sold more than $13 billion worth of iPhone-related products and services during fiscal 2009. Facebook was on track for at least $500 million in 2009 revenue.
- We really don't need to discuss this do we? Facebook has more than 400 million very active users; Apple is blessed with rabid, almost canonical defenders.
- You already know Fast Company's rankings.
What you might not know is that Facebook appears to be taking some of its innovative cues from Apple. According to Bloomberg, the social superstar plans to expand a service called Facebook Credits, which would allow makers of games that live on its platform to sell virtual goods. Facebook would net the 30% of the profits, much as Apple does with iTunes, Bloomberg says.
Welcome to the age of platforms
This is very big news, indeed. It means that Facebook is growing into a serious platform for software, just as Windows has. Or Mac OS X, or even the iPhone OS. MySpace tried but failed to become a platform, and today is casting about for a lifeline. Facebook is long past the toddler stage.
Just look at the tools available. Facebook yesterday launched what it calls a "migrations" tool that allows developers to control when and how to integrate the platform's latest features into the software applications they've built for it.
Sound basic? It's not. Developers are used to upgrading software on their own schedules, yet social networks move at their own pace. Giving coders a measure of control is crucial; it allows them to think of Facebook as a platform for serious business.
Zuckerberg needs them thinking this way. In the cloud-computing era, developers have more platform choices than they've ever had. There isn't enough time to devote time to them all. Every little thing Facebook does to make itself more attractive to this group adds value, and makes a rich IPO that much more likely.
Facebook ... the next Apple?
Apple fans will recognize the pattern. After years of berating Windows and its own lack of developer support for the Mac OS, Apple embraced Intel chips and made it easier for Macs to run Windows. You know what's happened since.
Zuckerberg may not be the turtleneck-wearing iconoclast that Jobs is, but each of them knows something about courting developers and consumers. Little else matters when it comes to creating value in today's tech market.
Do you think Facebook will be the next Apple? Make your voice heard using the comments box below.