Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Facebook is like a newspaper circa 1999

With all the frenzy around Facebook's upcoming IPO, here are a few thoughts. I have no idea where it will price and what the stock will do on the first day. What I do know is that there is a parallel between between Facebook right now and the newspaper industry in 1999: it is trying to be everything to everybody in an emergent age of choices.

Facebook has nearly "everyone" in it, and, as a result, it is useless. There are numerous niche substitutes that do not hunger to play some omnipotent figure like the Hooded One does, and, on top, it is not difficult or expensive to build your own social network around any affiliation, with all FB features, and then some.

Here are my non-Facebook social networks where I spend about 1,000x the time I do on FB:
- Twitter: careful selection of people to follow has led to an overwhelmingly positive experience.
- LinkedIn: they will put most job search sites, temp agencies, job application software companies and headhunters out of business
- Closed alumni networks: similar use to LinkedIn
- SumZero and Capitalist Collective: stock discussions, not dissimilar to my experience on Twitter, without the draconian limit on characters
- Google Reader: until recently, it was a good way to pool "eyeballs" for news articles worth sharing
- Pinterest: a running collection of feeds that I find visually appealing (architecture, design, etc.)

And here are a few others that I don't use but I can see them chipping away at FB:
- CollegeOnly: of course, "the kids" figured out that parents use FB to keep tabs on them...
- NextDoor: neighborhood-based social network that is actually locally relevant to you
- Tumblr: the ease of sharing pics/articles creates communities of interest (astounding amounts of 18+ materials there)
- Numerous dating sites by interest, ethnicity, etc.
- Multi-player, Zynga-standalone and app-based gaming
- Good old-fashioned forums
- 4Chan if that's still around
- I am sure I am missing a few

Finally, you can be your own Zuck with SocialEngine, starting at $299 or something. There are NO barriers to entry, and they have something like 650 additional developer plugins (like group buying functions) that FB does not have.

I expect to see FB becoming even more obnoxious over time as they slowly slip into irrelevance. Good luck to any pre-, at- and post-IPO buyers.

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