Digital Media


Facebook Growing Up- Boring

by Vidya Subramanian Nath 02 Feb 2012
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Wall Street and many world wide waited long enough for Facebook (FB) to go public. And now that the company has filed for the IPO, there will be incessant chatter- on its success, its 800+ million strong user network, its profitablity and its (hidden) policies and agenda.
Though an analyst, I don't want to examine or comment on its valuation. Many IT/Web companies have seemingly inflated values and its hard to debate on it. However, I do not agree with many of my peers in the analyst community and beyond, that FB is bubble and just waiting to burst. The success of a company in this industry depends on creating a product/ solution/ platform that is universally accessible and used worldwide. Facebook goes beyond that. It created a network of people that spans boundaries of regions, cultures, attitudes and age- a vibrant virtual club, where it is fashionable to hang out. Its clutter-free clean Web look and its UI for both users as well as developers over multimedia has endeared itself to all and eventually broken the back of its top competitors (MySpace and Orkut). It has virtually no competitor and is the homepage of millions of screens on earth.
However FB has a daunting task to keep up its popularity as well as innovation. I am among the very few users who has become complacent with it. After a phase of logging in every two minutes, and finding friends (and comfortable in the knowledge that I have more than 100 friends in the world), I am lazy with my stop-ins and don't find it virally addictive anymore. I realize that I am perhaps one of just 10-15% of the users who visit Facebook rarely (and some who have completely deleted their account.)
In perhaps the world's largest game of public Chinese whispers, there are many who find FB useful to "pass time"- doing shopping, gaming, reading, among other things. FB will have to continue to attract applications that can be unavoidably useful (such as Google search), yet fun for imposing continual recall.
Fun is the key word. I was amused to read Zuckerburg's comment that FB was built to be a "social mission." My preacher has a social mission, not FB.
About 45% of FB's user demographic comprises of users below 25 and another 20% who are below 35 years of age. Considering that FB started as a network for friends to 'hang out' and communicate, there in lies its ultimate value proposition. Zuckerburg is right when he implies that it is a platform driven by people. FB didn't connect millions of people- people connected to each other through it. FB didn't start the Arab Spring, its users did. FB needs to continue to focus on making tools that can be constantly used by people to drive their thoughts and their actions.
Another thing FB will have to be careful about, is to avoid getting into the realm of "networking," which unlike social networking is work and can become intrusive. Companies who "leech" on to the platform to market to their audiences find this hard to resist.
FB's marketing and messaging are gradually showing signs of 'corporate' maturity. If that continues, its sheen will wear off.
FB's USP unlike Google's lies in its youthful communality, irrespective of the age of its user. It could well become a service provider, or a solutions provider, but will have to ensure that it does so without branding itself as one. Else it will lose its magic.
My suggestion- Grow, yes, but...please don't grow up.

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