On the surface, it sounds like an odd couple: Facebook, one of the most recognizable successes in the Web 2.0 firmament, and Zuora, a start-up with a suite of subscription commerce products based on the software as a service model.
But Zuora is betting on a computing trend: that as more applications move to the cloud in coming years, the natural corollary is that developers will follow the money and necessarily move in the same direction.
Even on Facebook.
"There are 140 new applications a day on Facebook because it's so easy and so viral a platform," Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo said. "But is anyone making money on Facebook?"
Probably not many. While developers have built profitable businesses on cloud-based platforms, such as Amazon Web Services, Salesforce.com's Force.com, and Google AppEngine, the same can't be said of Facebook. That's a source of no small amount of frustration for developers hemmed in by Facebook's restrictions on placing ads on the service (not to mention the relatively low advertising rates for in-application ads on the service.)
That does not preclude the possibility that someone will find a way to unlock the potential of the so-called Facebook Economy. But so far, it's more of a scenario than a reality. Tzuo, who is about to give it a shot, argues that if each active user on the service had a $1 monthly subscription, that scenario could turn into a reality with more than $1 billion in annual subscription revenue.
So it is that on Monday, Zuora is debuting a cloud-based service at the Demo conference. The product, called Z-Commerce, consists of different modules that a developer can use to set up and manage a subscription service on Facebook. Z-Commerce also comes with pre-built widgets that can get plugged into existing Facebook apps without the need for additional code work.
For its part, Zuora assumes responsibility for the back-end arrangements, including billing and payments. The ambition is large: to attract enough Facebook developers to the idea and transform their applications into subscription services. If enough of them conclude that this is an idea whose time has come, Tzuo believes that Facebook can actually evolve into an enterprise cloud computing platform.
A tall order, to be sure. Still, I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg wouldn't have any issues if that came even halfway true.