Facebook is coming to cars, reports Reuters. Mercedes-Benz USA is putting a pared-down version of Facebook in its vehicles, and will be unveiling the tech this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, tech which Reuters says is “specially designed for drivers and centered around the locations of friends and businesses.” Facebook has long jockeyed to maintain its position as the central hub of our digital social lives. But as the service shows hints of expanding to just about any screen with an Internet connection, it’s worth asking: Is Facebook experiencing a kind of mission creep?
In one sense, Facebook has already conquered the world: It has 800 million users who check in on their computers, smartphones, and tablets. But the ever-ambitious company thinks it can do better: The company’s Dan Rose said to expect Facebook apps coming to an increasing variety of screens, including TVs (also expected in abundance at CES).
Facebook and Mercedes collaborated on the app over the last six months (it was actually mostly made by a Mercedes team in Palo Alto), which will form part of the “mbrace 2 telematics system,” which will run on a high-res screen near the dashboard of the 2013 SL-Class Mercedes and other 2013 models. Google and Yelp will also have apps that form part of the system.
For Google and Yelp to exist in cars makes, of course, perfect sense: Their informational services can prove crucial on the road. Facebook, though, is considered by many to be a frivolous distraction, a tool for socializing rather than acquiring mission-critical information. With its upcoming presence in cars, though, Facebook is making the claim that even driving can be social. For instance, according to the Reuters report, drivers could share their destination and ETA with the push of a button.
To Forrester analyst Charles Golvin, Facebook’s move isn’t entirely surprising: “They are already present on PCs, smartphones, and tablets so it makes sense for them to extend that presence to the next screens that consumers are likely to spend time interacting with: TVs and those in their cars, and in the future to any other device,” he tells Fast Company. “It’s hard to see the reason why the owner of an Ecobee-connected thermostat might want to access Facebook (‘status: house getting chilly! time to up the heat a bit’), but who knows.”
Facebook’s central thesis is that the world is, at root, about how we socialize and share. It’s a bold assertion, but one that is already transforming industries: Entire news organizations, for instance, are being built on the premise. Facebook’s expansion to unlikely places–the car, the television–raises the question of whether the social network is becoming something more than a social network. In its ubiquity, at least, Facebook is acquiring the reach of an operating system, powering our experiences across a variety of devices. In November, reports emerged of a “Facebook phone”; though the phone is said to run on Android, Facebook will reportedly be deeply integrated. And in the wake of Facebook’s F8 conference, the Los Angeles Times wondered if it was time to start calling Facebook a “social operating system.” “I think the social operating system is already here,” Dave Morin, a former Facebook exec (now CEO of Path), told the Times.
Golvin thinks the metaphor somewhat belabored: “I don’t think of [Facebook] as an OS in this context,” he tells Fast Company, “but rather a set of applications that pervade consumers’ lives. I suspect that no matter where its customers are and what they’re doing, Facebook wants to ensure that it’s present and available to them.”
As it hits the road, and much else, Facebook is sure doing a good job of that.