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> Personal websites [...] is what will allow Facebook to no longer be irreplaceable, which is the real reason why people stay on the platform.

No, you're making a common mistake of looking at the surface level of what Facebook shows to users (the so-called "webpage"). Therefore, the seemingly "obvious" solution to beat Facebook is -- Everybody Has Personal Websites.

Since I've seen many smart techies and programmers (e.g. the author of the article we're discussing) make that same claim, I think Mark Zuckerberg has (inadvertently) pulled off the most stunning "Keyser Söze"[0] type of misdirection about the real competitive advantage of Facebook. Programmers are mislead into looking at one thing (e.g. "personal websites") when they really should be looking at something else: The Real Names Lookup Database.

The Real Names Lookup Database is what makes the other features such as "point-to-point messaging", "chat", "calendar events", and finally "personal blog platform" aka "personal websites" -- all work so well with minimum friction.

To put it in more computer science syntax, Facebook has the following SQL table (approximate pseudocode) that's very valuable:

  create table real_ids (
    real_name,
    real_phone_number,
    real_email_address,
    ... other metadata ...
  );
Facebook has accumulated approximately ~2 billion rows in that table with those special primary keys. The end users of Facebook also find that table very useful. (My previous comment about this.[1]) Do not get distracted by things like "personal webpages". It's that special SQL table that makes Facebook hard to replace.

To continue the Facebook analysis via psuedo SQL, when a user wants to see something relevant from somebody she knows, it's:

  SELECT posts FROM real_ids WHERE real_name = "Jane Doe";
Getting relevant calender events & invites is the same idea:

  SELECT event_invites FROM events,real_ids WHERE real_name = "Jane Doe";
Here's where some observers get sidetracked: Even though the SQL columns "post" and "event_invites" are eventually rendered in HTML, this does not mean that "personal websites of html" is the solution to supplant Facebook. The real issue to analyze is the SQL WHERE clause. Making that WHERE clause work for real names is not trivial to build.

Another company that has a similar real_ids database is LinkedIn. But because they cater to professionals, they have mostly white-collar workers looking for jobs; they're missing blue-collar plumbers, or grandparents that are retired, etc. In any case, the same "flawed solution" can be misapplied here: "The solution to replace LinkedIn is to make it easy for people to make personal websites of their résumé and job history."

If you still have doubts whether Facebook's special sauce is the real_names database or if it's the "ease of personal websites", consider what Mark Zuckerberg chooses to spend billions on: Instagram ($1 billion), WhatsApp ($19 billion), and attempt to acquire Snapchat ($3 billion).

Notice that MZ does not bother with acquiring "easy-to-use website builders" such as Wix[2], or Squarespace[3].

What does Instagram/WhatsApp/Snapchat have in common that Wix/Squarespace does not? Those competitors' smartphone apps have a database of real_phone_numbers of their users!

On a related note, thinking that a protocol like ActivityPub can replace Facebook is also misguided analysis. ActivityPub is not a "real names lookup database" so it can't replace the actual thing that makes Facebook useful. Instead of focusing on protocols, think of how to make an alternative database of real_names-lookup that isn't owned by Facebook. Also think of where the db will be physically stored (blockchain is probably not the answer), and how costs for the maintenance of the db will be paid.

Without a viable real_names lookup database, it's pointless for Everybody To Have Personal Websites because there's no easy way for them to connect to other relevant websites to share data. That "connection" is easiest and more scalable when it's based on real names instead of urls.

For a database lookup of domain names to ip addresses, we have a canonical and universal "database": DNS. It's also very useful to have a "real names" reverse-lookup to "web profiles" but right now, the closest analogy we have to that is the realnames database privately owned by Facebook. Facebook has become the biggest and most authoritative "DNS of real people's names".

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyser_S%C3%B6ze

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15294086

[2] https://www.wix.com/

[3] https://www.squarespace.com/




This is interesting. Literally the one thing that prevents me from using social networks is the real names database. I refuse to give my real name so I don't get the full experience other users do. I would never use facebook, but I would be interested in an anonymous distributed 1:1 social network (like email, without servers). Currently I do use email and minimize my exposure by changing addresses from time to time, however, I'd prefer a full control version. Running an email server is too hard.

Back in the old days I was on IRC. I loved IRC. It was anonymous and everyone could have their own server and you could have individual chat and direct file share instead of broadcasting to everyone. But it's not asynchronous. I would do this thing where I would send my IP and a passcode to my IRC friends and with the IP and credentials they would have access to a specific folder on my home server. I put occasionally a diary or some photos on there and they could leave me messages. (OK it was a very crude solution. I was very young.) I liked it because it did not commit me to having the stuff up all the time but at the same time it wasn't gone forever if I didn't get to it right then.

I realize I am something of an anti-market and nobody would find my dream social network viable. Maybe I should make one for myself. I only have a dozen people I talk to really so there's no "all my friends are here" effect to consider for me.


Surely a new social network could use others' authentication providers (Facebook Connect, Google account, etc.) to get real names/numbers of users and their friends. Smartphone apps could use contacts from the phone itself. I don't think FB's social graph is as hard to replicate as its overall reach. Users think, "If everyone I know is already on FB or one of the other established networks, why use anything else? "


You're assuming getting users to give you that info is easy.


Right, Facebook themselves took roughly 10 years to build it, and they used a lot of psychological tricks to do it (first mover advantage, early FB was "exotic" and "invite only", late FB was an avalanche of FOMO and network effects, etc).

Similarly, the history of the White Pages and the Yellow Pages is a fascinating read and took decades for those books to be accepted. (Nowhere near as fast as they declined in the internet age.)


> That "connection" is easiest and more scalable when it's based on real names

Is it though? People I know refer to their pages with short urls and nicknames all the time because nobody wants to scroll through bazillion of John Doe profiles in Facebook search.




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