Hasn’t It Always Been About Status?

What’s the day? What's you doing?
How’s your mood? How's that song?
when it passes right by me
It’s behind me, now it’s gone.

Fireworks, Animal Collective

Facebook's announcement that they are opening up API access to user's status updates (and more) is big news. The status update has become the ultimate social gesture. You could see this coming if you were watching carefully. All last year, Facebook, who is the leader in social networking and will continue to be as far as I can tell, focused on morphing the user experience, first to the news feed and ultimately to the status update as the primary user experience.

But Facebook did not invent the status update. I honestly don't know where the status update started but for me it was AIM where I first was asked to leave a short note telling people what I was doing. I've heard Jack Dorsey, the inventor of Twitter, talk many times about his inspirations for Twitter and one of them was the status message in AIM.

Much of the innovation in social networking is being driven by entrepreneurs in their late 20 and early 30s. These people were teenagers or young adults when AIM came out in 1997 and they rapidly adopted the IM interface for rapid (and rabid) communications with friends from their bedrooms and/or dorm rooms. The status update is ingrained in their social networking intuitions.

It seems to me, and I am certainly influenced as an active user of and investor in Twitter, that status has emerged as the ultimate social gesture. If you look at traditional social nets, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, etc, etc, they offer many social activities; writing on walls, posting and tagging photos, sharing videos, listening to music, playing games, etc.

But as Joshua Schachter explained to me a few years ago now, reduction of services to the simplest user experiences is a powerful generator of focused activity. And that's what is going on at Facebook and across the social networking sector right now. Status is universal. Not everyone takes photos or videos, or plays games. But everyone has a status and it changes. It's also quick and easy to post a status message. And it's massively conversational (something we didn't quite realize until Twitter users invented the @reply).

I believe Facebook's recognition of status as the most important and most powerful social gesture seals the deal. Status is where it's at in social networking. This is very good for Twitter and its also very good for the other social nets who recognize this and move quickly to provide status updating features and open them up to the social web.

This is also very good for third party Twitter clients who will now be able to become status clients. We are going to see continued innovation in and around the status message. We can use filtering, semantics, indentity, social graphs, and a host of other important technologies to weave a real-time web around status.

Of course, not all social nets are the same. The big differences are around public/private and one-way/reciprocal following as well as market positioning. A service like Facebook, with its emphasis on privacy and reciprocal following serves the user who values privacy and wants to have a smaller and more intimate social experience (the private party). A service like Twitter with its default to public and one-way follow serves the user who wants to reach the broadest audience (the man on the soapbox). A service like LinkedIn, which has adopted the Facebook model (more or less) but is business focused will serve an even different user base.

All of these services will be generators of status and the real-time web is emerging as a result. My friend John Borthwick has been one of the leading thinkers about the implications of this real-time web and he penned an interesting post this week about the implications of all this on Google and the search ecosystem.

John talks about attending a Christensen talk at AOL around the time of the AOL/Time Warner merger:

They [market leaders] think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on
the same theme that they began with.   As a consequence they miss the
grass roots challenger — the real disruptor to their business.   The
company who is disrupting their business doesn’t look relevant to the
billion dollar franchise, its often scrappy and unpolished, it looks
like a sideline business, and often its business model is TBD.

It's interesting to note how Facebook is behaving in this regard. It's impressive as hell. Say what you will about Mark Zuckerberg. He's got the intellectual curiosity and honesty to see what's going on and deal with it. He's done it again and again, with the news feed, with the platform, and now with status. And the social and real time web is so much better because of it.

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