Facebook could have knocked Pinterest or Flickr off the map with a redesign of their photo platform. Facebook could very well become a viable competitor to YouTube if they get serious about public indexing of user uploaded video (within user permissions). Facebook could be and do so many things that would increase the strength of their offering, but they do not want to compromise on their core platform design and one-size-fits-all user experience. Facebook publically says that they do not want to compete with the likes Flickr but rather want all other developers to integrate Facebook into their platforms. Which is a fair enough perspective.
But Facebook is also facing tremendous opportunity.
Consider Facebook Labs.
Facebook Labs could be a holding ground for wildly innovative new designs, new features and new products that need not look or work much like Facebook.com, or even live on the Facebook.com. Facebook.com is for 80% of the normal users. Labs could offer products for the hardcore or extremely light users, specialized audiences, content, search and more. Below are a few examples:
- Better User-Oriented Design Options - If I'm a photo junky, Facebook Labs could provide me with a suite of interactive designs and activities that make for a better user experience all around photography. This could easily become an overnight Pinterest-like success, and need not even live on the Facebook.com domain.
- Product Testing and Development - Facebook could easily use the Labs moniker to soft launch products to platform enthusiasts (all of us who created developer accounts to get early access to Timelines). Whether it's a more content, search and discovery oriented Facebook video platform, or a Facebook search engine, Labs could provide the army of enthusiasts who are ready to kick the tires before a massive scaled launch.
- Live And Let Live Acquisitions - Facebook Labs could provide a fertile ground for Facebook-acquired companies to continue to live and prosper as stand alone businesses while contributing talent and IP to the greater organization. Instagram need not be neglected (FriendFeed) just because they are now part of a far bigger picture.
- Better Internal Free Thinking - Facebook has always been fairly reality-driven. We never hear about Facebook Googles or space elevators. And I don't know that we should. But there is a lot of merit in funding a sandbox for incubating great, parallel ideas that feed into the Facebook vision. These ideas need not even live on Facebook.com or be heavily Facebook branded. Less focussed innovation in a funded sandbox can open up unknown worlds of opportunity.
For all I know, Facebook may already have their own beta-lab in the works or may even have secretly launched such an initiative. Given everything I've every learned about the company and many others in similar predicaments before them, it's time to launch a not-yet-Timeline ready option for those of us who are ready to go beta. I bet the entire team at Xerox from the 1980s would agree.