In case you missed it, yesterday marked the beginning of a historic partnership between Microsoft and Facebook. Microsoft launched a new service called Docs.com (still in beta) that aims to compete with Google Docs as an online productivity suite. The site looks very sleek–much sleeker than Google Docs–but this is not the big deal.
The big deal is that Facebook and Microsoft are linking their services together. Here’s how it works: your Facebook login will get you into Docs.com, and all of the documents you create on Docs.com will be shared with your FB friends (depending, of course, on your privacy settings). The idea is to make collaborative work with others simpler by drawing on your existing FB connections.
Not a bad idea, really, though I doubt that a cloud version of MS Office will EVER replace the software version. Better to add more sophisticated networking capabilities to the software version if you ask me. But here’s the larger significance: FB and Microsoft are betting on the future of the web. Facebook wants to become the very fabric of the web, the way that Google is now. Think about it: whenever you need to find something on the web, you Google it. Facebook wants to be your first stop on the web–the place you go to find things.
This marks a kind of shift in thinking about information online. Google banks on the idea that information is important in and of itself. Their mission statement, after all, is to organize all of the world’s information. Hence Google Book Search, the project to make millions of volumes available to the public.
Facebook believes that it’s not what you know (or can find): it’s who you know. The most effective way of finding information, from this point of view, is to see what your friends are posting about–not just status lines about their cats, of course, but important news stories, blogs, and, according to this new deal, documents. This idea does have some merit. I remember learning about the death of Michael Jackson and the earthquake in Haiti through FB and not a news organization. Somewhere, one of your friends is online, sharing videos, posting links, and updating his status line.
The truth of this new etymology occured to me this week as I continued my research on my new book. Here’s the story. I need the transcript from a BBC radio program originally aired on March 6, 1991. The BBC electronic archives do not date that far back–essentially, to the pre-Internet days. I was searching online in vain (looking for the what, I suppose) when I thought of something better–contacting the scholars whose works reference the original transcript. I emailed one, and in short order, I had another lead, this time to a collection at Northwestern. I emailed the keeper of that archive, and, while I would like to say she sent me the transcript post haste, I am actually still waiting to hear from her.
I am not entirely convinced that knowledge is inherently social, at least in terms of the web. But incidents like the above go a long way toward validating the importance of who you know.