Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How can Facebook avoid the fate of social networks.

Social networking sites come and go. There hasn't been a social networking product that has really lasted. I believe it is because they were only a single product company and eventually people lose interest and move on to another product. Facebook, despite what they say, is also really a single product company. Everything they do is meant to get you to continue to use that single product whether it is with new features or apps (which are essentially features of FB that they got outside developers to build).

How can Facebook avoid the fate of other social networking sites? They only have to look to Yahoo. Facebook is not the next Microsoft, Apple or Google even though they're trying to be. The product and business offerings are just too different. What they are is really the next Yahoo. I think it's fortunate for them that their user demographic has changed to an older crowd similar to Yahoo's. If they didn't attract this crowd, they'd be like MySpace who lost the mindshare of their demographic and couldn't attract new users. The current Facebook/Yahoo crowd tend to not like change as much and are more conservative. At the same time, they also tend to be pretty loyal to what they know. While the media love to talk about the demise of Yahoo, the reality is that millions of users are used to going to Yahoo for news, sports, horoscopes and nothing will make them change their daily ritual.

This benefits Facebook even though there are short term pains as this group tends to be less open and more concerned about privacy so Facebook has to change itself to fulfill the needs of their current user base. Thus, I believe that Facebook has to decide if that is a future they want. Facebook likes to point out that they have surpassed Yahoo and they did it by becoming the next Yahoo. Now they just need to accept it.

Apple's Garden and Android's Openness

There are a lot of talk lately about Apple's iPhone vs Google's Android. There are comparisons on features, prices, market share, and growth. Since Google I/O, I've also started noticing that there is also a growing focus on the cultural differences between the two platforms.

Apple is, and has always has, been an advocate of control. They follow the school of thought where choice is not good for the consumer because consumers find it difficult to make decision when there are too many choices. It's a lot like Henry Ford's quote "Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black."

Google believes in providing technology to the masses and letting the masses guide the direction and use of the technology. The consumer might not like having to chose between between 100 nearly identical choices, but the consumer will also eliminate the weak choices until the right amount of choices are left for them to comfortably choose from.

Between these two cultures, who will win? Both? Neither? Google? (Usual disclaimer: I'm an employee of Google but any thoughts here represent my personal views and are not necessarily that of my employer.)