Facebook for the masses, or user generated content for better business strategy?

I must confess that I am not an early adopter of latest gadgets and technologies.

In Forrester’s methodology of consumer segmentation I would probably fall into the “technology pessimist” category. To me, Facebook is just a “necessary evil”: a way to keep up with a group of friends who have already moved there. But I am very interested in Facebook as a pop culture and a business phenomenon (well, the latest price tag on Facebook is also very intriguing: “Trying To Justify That $2 Billion Pricetag, Facebook Expands Beyond Students” and “ Face value: Book value“).

I am most fascinated, however, by the platform potential of Facebook, as a technology on top of which others can build new software tools and businesses. Facebook has yet to prove that it can evolve beyond multiplayer scrabble and create environments where businesses would want to play. In the business domain, Facebook will compete with a whole host of players. For example, while at the Future Play Conference last week, I attended a talk by John Lester, a Boston—based director of Second Life, who positioned Second Life as a platform for innovative learning and collaborative environments.

One of the best examples of how real businesses use these new technology platforms came from my sculptor friend. His work was selected for an exhibit by a Toronto gallery as part of the Fine Art Competition in Aram Art through the on-line voting platform, where professional critics and the public chose 20 pieces from the over 200 submitted entries.

This is a perfect example of technology enabling a transition from a highly specialized resource to a more democratic platform. I see immediate economic value in moving certain complex decision making processes into the real marketplace (see also Radiohead’s announcement about self-releasing their new songs online and allowing consumers to determine how much to pay).

Could innovative product development companies (and those who fund them, i.e. venture capital firms) become the next wave of Facebook/Second Life users? Or are they already there and just don’t know how to leverage it? When are the innovators going to put their collective brains to the task of getting useful applications up on this platform of social potential?