I was finally allowed to set up my Facebook topic on Flipboard yesterday (after a week of waiting). As I suspected, it makes for a far better browse interface to Facebook status updates and wall posts than Facebook's clients.
Several discussions I've been in over the last few months have brought up the difficulty for Facebook to maintain its business model (advertising based on users visiting Facebook) while trying to be the platform for status updates. In an earlier post I talked about the growing pains that Facebook would have.
Here's the bottom line - if you are going to be a platform, but make money from selling apps, your apps have to be the best. Facebook is trying to have its cake and eat it too - be the social graph platform (out twitter twitter) and be the number one client of that platform.
That is nice and ambitious, and companies have pulled it off before (Microsoft for one - with Windows and the #1 app for Windows - Office), but where Facebook is really walking a difficult line is in meeting the competition that it is engendering. Flipboard is, quite simply, a way better Facebook client than Facebook for rapidly browsing newsfeed and wall post content. How will Facebook answer this?
Facebook needs to decide what its relationship is to be with this new generation of apps that pull out and surpass Facebook functionality while leveraging Facebook's APIs and user data. If Facebook becomes a social graph utility, it won't be worth much. But if these new clients compliment facebook.com usage they are a boon to its business.
A real danger is in making any kind of move to shut down Flipboard and others. Judging by the user reaction so far, Facebook users will react very negatively to any move by Facebook to make Flipboard less compelling (it's being widely acclaimed as the "killer ipad app" with Facebook integration as the lead feature). Getting turfy about access by users to what they think of as "their" information could easily backfire, and Facebook has had quite enough bad press recently.
Being a platform is hard. Trying to be the leading client of that platform is even harder. Flipboard is starting to show us what is possible using Facebook services. The platform team at Facebook should be proud. The client team should be scared and energized. Let's hope that Facebook can manage the tension creatively.