Does Facebook Really Have Three Years To Figure Things Out?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tells us, via an interview with a Frankfurt newspaper, that they are currently experimenting with a number of models and expect to have worked out their optimal way to monetize within three years.

I agree with his premise that the model for social networks is different to the Google ad-based revenue model – people visit socnets to hang out, not to click through. I also agree that experimentation is good, but will it seriously take them three years?

Perhaps something got lost in the translation from Zuckerspeak to German to English.

[via Silicon Alley Insider]

VentureWrap: Friendster, SpaceX Raise $20M Funding

One of the earlier social networking pioneers, Friendster, has continued its Asian-led comeback with a $20 million infusion from IDG Ventures and previous investors [Benchmark, DAG Ventures, Founders Fund and Kleiner Perkins].

In addition to the cash Friendster has secured Richard Kimber, formerly Google’s South Asian Regional MD, as CEO.

Also raising $20 million is SpaceX, the Elon Musk-led space transporteer. The round was provided by Founders Fund. Musk is a former South African and founder of Paypal and Tesla. The recent test of their Falcon 1 rocket hit a snag with stage separation lock. This led to the craft not achieving orbit. Elon has unequivocally stated that they are still on track – the message from this funding round backs him up.

Founders Fund are having a busy time of it lately. One of their other portfolio companies, Facebook, is apparently contemplating empowering staff to sell off a portion of their vested stock. This accords with the philisophy of letting founders cash out along the journey, which has been a key Founders Fund differentiator – extending it to all employees is an interesting move.

Incidentally LinkedIn is also reportedly [via VentureBeat] contemplating this route.

“Great Apes!” Facebook Favorites Apps, Flushes Others

A year ago Facebook announced its F8 Platform – open architectured and a new frontier for all app developers to populate. But a chosen few apps were lauded as the leading lights. This gave a huge first mover advantage to a handful of players.

Today, Facebook has essentially named the frontier won. A select few apps will be chosen (not by the users, but by Facebook) as “Great Apps” and they will be rewarded with a higher level of visibility and early access to new features.

Other apps, essentially the “Great Unwashed”, will either be chosen to be part of an Application Verification program and receive some form of certification that gives users more assurances of their good character or they will be flushed to the lower recesses of the Facebook platform with the implied certification: “Install at Your Peril”.

I can see benefits for Facebook users, who have become saturated with spammy apps, but for developers who have built apps that deliver high levels of engagement and value to users, it remains to be seen whether the inside track will be fair and equitable. Facebook’s current track record in delivering on its developer promises is not crash hot at present — anyone remember the Facebook Fund?

VentureWrap: Zynga Brings Kleiner Into Play With $29M

The Potrero Hill, San Francisco-based Mark Pincus social games venture, Zynga Game Network has closed a $29 million Series B funding round led by Kleiner Perkins.

New Kleiner partner and former Electronic Arts Chief Creative Officer Bing Gordon will be joining the board and getting actively involved in operations.

This follows a recent $10 million Series A and the investors in that round (Avalon Ventures, Foundry Group and Union Square Ventures) have participated alongside Kleiner and IVP in the Series B.

I suspect this funding will be used to fuel a number of acquisitions. This is borne out by Zynga’s additional announcement that they have acquired YoVille, a virtual-world app that has over 150,000 daily active users on Facebook.

[Hat tip to Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures]

Flushing The Data Portaloo: The Looming Portability Squareoff With Users

How close are we to true data portability? It depends who is asking the question as to how it gets answered.

As one of the chief catalysts for the current wave of discussion and (some) action, Chris Saad, points out none of the current high profile implementations are completely true to the overall understanding of portability.

Writing on his blog, Chris sees Facebook Connect, Google’s Friend Connect and MySpace’s Data Availability as important first steps. They are the first shots across the bow to the industry that a data portability battle is coming.

That battle will involve a squareoff between the user: me, you – and the networks collectively.

I like Chris’s address book analogy:

DataPortability is about a different social contract – a contract more closely resembling the one found in the email address book.

My address book is my own. When you email me, or when you communicate with me, you are revealing something about yourself. You define a social contract with me that means that I can use your information to contact you whenever and however I like – I could even re-purpose my address book for all manor of other things.

If, however, you violate that trust, either directly or indirectly, you break the social contract and I will tend to not deal with you again. We can not perfectly engineer these sorts of contracts into systems – we can try, but in the end social behavior will be the last mile in enforcing user rights.

Also, the dichotomy between who ‘owns’ the data is false. In my mind there is shared ownership. While you use a service, it is a shared custodianship of the data. By giving the service your data you’re getting something else in return – utility. In many cases free utility.

You personally, however, have shared (and overriding) ownership over your data. This has been declared as universally true by all the vendors I’ve spoken to.

The question is not one of ownership though, it’s one of control. If you own your data but can’t control it as you choose then ownership is a mute point. Further, the question is not one of if you own it, but rather how much of it you own.

For example, do you own your friends profile data since you have access to it via the social tool you are using? Or have they only granted you access within that social context and under that social contract. These considerations blur the analogy of the purely personal address book.

So where does this leave us. The industry continues to engage in discussion and analyse the meaning of both data portability and the current implementations. As long as this dialogue continues the looming squareoff will remain just that – looming. We are in a honeymoon period in which users are coming to grips with their rights and freedoms and comparing the various networks to determing whether and to what extent they are being violated.

For now, data portability continues to have relevancy and I do not believe our rights have been flushed away. However, I would encourage all players to listen very carefully to the conversation going on.

As I’ve said many times: the Internet giveth, the Internet taketh away – and it can do both with blinding speed. This is especially relevant for Facebook, given the current meme around its intentions started by Umair Haque.

UPDATE: Robert Scoble has a sound analysis of the situation, after an initial misunderstanding on his part. Have a read, the best part is him putting his participation on the Gillmor Gang on mute, having a shower and then coming back on the show. I know it’s been hot in the Bay area the last few days, but this is hilarious and about all the GG seems good for – cooling off.

[Picture courtesy of willgrant]