3 min read

The next big thing isn't here, but it may be very, very close

I've had no luck getting journalists and B2B publishers interested in creating widgets.
I've tried. But I've failed.
I can think of at least a half dozen conversations and emails on the subject in the past few months. But no one I've talked to has reacted with anything even close to enthusiasm. It's my fault, I'm sure. I didn't create a sense of urgency about widgets ... because although I've viewed them as exceedingly cool things, I haven't thought of them as crucial to a B2B publication.
But that may have just changed.
In a related vein, in the past few years dozens of journalists and  publishing executives have asked me what I think will be the next big thing in publishing. And although I've used that question to launch conversations on dozens of topics, I haven't given a definitive answer ... because I didn't think I knew the answer.
But that too may have just changed.

If you've heard the news about Facebook, you may know what I'm about to say.  If you haven't heard the news, let me explain. Facebook, the social-networking site that dominates the online lives of millions of college and high-school students,  has said it will allow outside companies to embed applications and widgets in its pages. Facebook is opening its API to the world. What that means is that anyone is now free to build entire online businesses -- including content businesses -- on top of Facebook.
Scott Karp says the move gives Facebook the opportunity to become the next Google.

The first widgets are coming from predictable sources such as Amazon and Digg. But the possibilities are endless.
Certainly some of the smartest folks in the media business have jumped on the Facebook train. Take a look at this post by Rob Curley of the Washington Post, which "secretly" developed three applications for Facebook (Note: Rob emphasizes that Facebook is doing more than accepting widgets, but is instead looking for applications that are "real social-networking tools." And he even makes a point of saying that a simple widget of headline feeds would be about the dumbest thing anyone could try to get the Facebook community excited about.)

So am I saying that Facebook is the next big thing? For B2B? Not really.
Look -- Facebook has clearly become the most exciting company in the online world. And unlike a year ago when I first tried to sign up for a Facebook account, now even gray-haired B2B types like me are free to join. But I don't see Facebook becoming a major factor in the working lives of people in their 30s and older.
Am I saying that widgets are the next big thing? in B2B? Not really, although it's clear that many of the most exciting online products we'll see in the next few months will be widgets built for Facebook.

What I'm saying is that Facebook's decision to open its API is going to prompt a shift in the world of online content -- similar to the shifts that came with the rise of content aggregation and search. Once again the way that early adopters find, consume and share content is going to change. More importantly, an entire new class of entrepreneurs will emerge to build content companies on top of Facebook's API.
What I'm saying is that the next big thing in B2B publishing will exist because of what Facebook is doing. What I'm saying is that after new entrepreneurs figure out how to make money from content on Facebook, they'll figure out how to make money in B2B using a similar, widget-like process of embedding applications on top of someone else's business.
And the place that I think that's most likely to happen is Salesforce.com.

If you're not familiar with Salesforce, take a walk over to the desk of the guy who sells your ads. Odds are he knows it. Odds are he uses it. Ask him to explain it to you. Or just take a look here for an explanation of how Salesforce's customers can pick and choose from applications.
What you'll find is that Salesforce already is what Facebook is trying to become -- a technology platform that allows users to build a place to be on the Web. And while Facebook is about life, Salesforce is about work. Just like B2B publishing.

So consider this: Earlier this year Salesforce launched a service aimed at financial-service professionals.  Merrill Lynch has already signed up 25,000 of its employees. Those employees are now using market-data streams and other applications in the Salesforce environment. But what they are not using is content, data or anything else from a traditional B2B publisher. Because as near as I can tell, none of the dozens of financial-service magazines in B2B have thought of a single application to offer them.

When I look at Facebook and Salesforce and open APIs, I'm convinced that I see the outline of the next big thing. I'm not sure exactly what form this next big thing will take. I'm not sure exactly how it will work. But I know that it is being born.
And as I have warned before, the world of B2B publishing isn't ready for it.

Click here to read how the development community views Facebook and Salesforce.

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