Few companies have the audacity to try to take over the entire internet the way Facebook intends to with its new "Open Graph" approach to hegemony. But then again, few companies can get 80 million people to publicly admit that they play a game called "Farmville." So instead of asking themselves if it's a good idea to rule the internet, Facebook's managers are asking themselves: is taking over people's experience of the internet really enough? Why not become the nation's top cellular service by next year, too?
Introducing: the FacePhone.
"The idea began in a happy accident," says Facebook board member Jim Breyer "when my profile got hacked. Phishers sent a message to two thousand or so of my friends asking if they'd like a Facebook phone number. The next day, I've got something like 600 messages complaining about emptied bank accounts and I thought--Wow! That's a sad scam, but there's obviously a lot of interest in this!"
Breyer took the idea to fellow board member Peter Thiel, and within twenty-four hours what might prove to be the idea of the decade was born.
"We'll be giving out FacePhones for free," says Thiel. "Using the FacePhone will also be absolutely free with no limits on pictures, texts, or even picture messages--to other FacePhone users."
And how much to call outside of the FacePhone network?
"The FacePhone will be like Facebook itself in that way," says Breyer, "your friends will have to join if they want to contact you. It's not possible to call out."
Thiel is confident, however, that this limitation won't be much of a concern. "On any given day, an average of 200 million people log into facebook. That's nearly 4% of the literate people in the world every day. Start offering them free cells phones linked to their accounts, and it won't be long until you can talk to everyone who's not a total techno-hermit on your FacePhone."
"Imagine never having to call anyone without checking their status line and most recent personal information first," says Breyer. "This is a big, big idea."
So how will Facebook pay for this?
"Ads are a factor, of course" says Thiel. "We're developing a system in which ads will be generated based on recent calls--if you've just spent an extended period with one company's customer service line, we'll bring up ads for their competitors. What company wouldn't pay top dollar for an opportunity like that? We'll also be charging for corporate accounts in the first place. Once we have a hundred million private users, most companies won't have much of a choice but to sign up for their own FacePhone lines--no matter what rate we set."
Won't companies be a little upset by that?
"Oh, I think the perks will outweigh the costs," says Breyer. "For a premium fee, we'll provide companies with some tools that help them make the most of user information. Let's say you run a movie theater: imagine being able to automatically send a message or coupon to every one of your contacts whose status includes the word 'bored.'"
"These aren't just free cell phones," says Thiel, "we're talking about a new and lucrative way to organize the world."
And what does Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg think of the plan?
"He's excited," says Thiel. "He's always looking for one more reason for the average person never to quit Facebook--we're confident that this will make Facebook even more essential not just as a product, but as the only socially acceptable 21st century way of life."
Like it or not, it seems clear that with its latest innovations, Facebook is doing just that. Geniuses like Napoleon, Hitler, and Pinky & the Brain may have failed, but Zuckerberg & Co. are showing that it's still possible to take over the world.
"Does this smile make me look evil?" -Peter Thiel
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