What Could You Do with 200 Million Users?

April 8, 2009

congratulations-wish-greeting-cardYou may or may not have heard the news out of Mark Zuckerberg world today.  Facebook will officially welcome its 200 Millionth user to the most popular social networking site in the world today.  To most of us, that number is unfathomable.  To Facebook, that is just another milestone to add to the list.

For people like me, who are in the business of making money online, you just have to sit back and admire an accomplishment like that.  True, Facebook has the advantage of being free.  And true, they still have yet to turn a profit even with that extraordinary exposure.  But 200,000,000 people using your service, wow.

For entrepreneurs in the technology field, it takes a lot to be optimistic.  I have heard countless people say they will be the next Facebook.  “If we could only get a few million users, we’ll be set for life.”

It’s true that most of us could do a lot if we had 200 Million users, but you have to be realistic here.  If you are just starting out, tell yourself that you can make money without an accomplishment like that.  If it’s going to take a million or so users for your service to make money, you had better know exactly where those users are coming from.

Think long and hard about who you are trying to serve.  Is your market as big as Facebook?  Is your service the first, or the best, of its kind?  Why will people care?

Starting a free service and trying to get the masses to sign up is much harder than starting a real business that makes money up front and spreading the word through marketing.  The internet has opened the doors for a whole new breed of company, but that does not mean that everyone who tries their luck will win at it.

It’s okay to admire Facebook, but don’t try to emulate them.

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Dear Facebook: Don’t Listen to Us(ers)

March 23, 2009

markzA big deal is currently being made about the recent redesign of Facebook.  You can read about it anywhere, see it in a new Facebook poll, or check it out for yourself.  It’s the same old story from the same people about the same problems, blah, blah, blah.

In the most recent round of design changes, Facebook changed the Homepage, made company pages more like profile pages, and made some minor font and layout changes on the profiles.  All of these changes were announced ahead of time, and users were updated as the changes came closer.  And then it happened, the changes took effect, and people got angry.

This is nothing new in Mark Zuckerberg’s world. In fact, nearly every time Facebook has changed something about the website they have encountered a backlash from their own community.  And when you serve as many people as the most popular social network does, you would almost expect it.

The crazy thing is, the backlash is usually followed by an explanation from Zuckerberg himself, but no real change (or a very small one), never going back to the way things were before the change.  And what happens to the people who hated the changes?  They just accept things the way they are.  Why? Basically because they are already so hooked as a Facebook user that they will shut their mouths and continue to use the network anyway.

I have a feeling Mark Zuckerberg knows this, and he uses it to his advantage.  Whereas other companies who may shake things up when this many users complain about a new program or design, Facebook seems to be sitting back and waiting for the latest round of craziness to pass.  And I think that is exactly what they should be doing.

Remember when Facebook changed their homepage the first time, adding the news feed that everyone is talking about.  For the first time as users, we were privy to a constant stream of updates from all of our friends.  Remember the backlash that created among the community.  What happened?  People threatened to leave Facebook forever, Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology for springing this on us without telling us before hand, updated a few privacy features, and left the news feed exactly as it was.  Those who fought back against it eventually stopped talking, accepted the change, and moved on.

This is will no doubt happen again with this design change.

In addition, this round of changes increases the value that Facebook has to corporate members and paid sponsors.  By updating these pages and feeding them into the profile-like stream, they allow companies to connect with more people on the network, increasing the chances of Facebook finding new and successful business models.

So when I say that Zuckerberg, and the rest of the team at Facebook, should not listen to the naysayers on this one, I mean it.  Just keep doing what you are doing, focus on improving the service and finding a monetization strategy (one that works), and let us complain all day.

I know this might sound odd coming from someone who discusses the need for companies to listen to their customers to drive forward moving and successful change.  And I also know that many people will disagree with this.  But the point is, Facebook is in a different league.  They are not defined by what their users think because their users have already shown how fickle they are.  No one is going to leave the network because of these design changes, Facebook will not lose any money, and truthfully, the service is not worse.  Sorry guys, Facebook wins.

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Lend a Finger Follow Up

February 2, 2009

et-fingerHow do you define success? Depending on the venture, there are always going to be a variety of goals and tools to use as measurement. Do you calculate the ROI of a project, or set small goals and consider achieving each one a success? It all depends.

Last week I posted a blog of significant importance to me. It was about my father, who had died of cancer, and the little steps that we can all take to help others. To read that post, click here and view the Lend a Finger Campaign.

I was not completely sure what I was looking to achieve with the post, but I did have some goals. I obviously wanted it to be a well written piece, one that sincerely related my thoughts to anyone who read it. I also wanted a lot of people to see it, more so than my average blog post. And after that, everything was gravy.

Well, after a few days of calculating stats and viewing the comments and emails of everyone who read it, I consider the post an incredible success. And I wanted to thank everyone for their help, though I can’t name you each individually, for helping to spread the message.

Many of my followers were quick to comment and retweet on Twitter, this lead to a lot of visitors and a large number of new followers, for which I am gracious. A surprising number of people used the sharing tools to share it on Facebook, which relayed the message to all of my friends and family. This brought in an overwhelming amount of emails and phone calls about the post.

After taking a look at the number of visitors to the Lend a Finger post, it is easy to see that when you are sincere and you have something interesting to say, others will take notice. My traffic from the day it went live through the weekend was 7-8 times higher than usual. I added this Twitpic of my stats on the day of the post.

Additionally, I was moved by the number of people who told me that they had or they planned on donating to cancer research and care, many in my father’s name. A quick mental calculation, of course I don’t know exact numbers, seems to show that 10-15 people donated to various charities that day after reading the blog.

I wish to thank everyone for their continued support. Know that if you got in touch with me that day, you moved me. If you helped relay the message, I appreciate it more than words can say. Because of the overwhelming feedback, I plan to use this blog as an outlet to bring to light many more things that we can do to help. I hope you will join me in the fight to make the world a better place.

To receive more information in the future, add my blog to your blog reader, or subscribe to receive updates in your email.

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Facebook and Change

January 27, 2009

Facebook AdvertisingIn the past few weeks a lot of things have been happening around the Facebook community.  Police made an arrest after someone made a positive identification of a bank robber off of a Facebook photo.  A woman was fired from his job after staying home from work “sick” and posting that he was too hung over to work on his profile.  Another woman was notified that she was fired through a message on her Facebook account.  Prince Harry was dumped, and the only way he found out was a Facebook profile update.  In addition, Burger King ran an interesting, successful viral ad using Facebook as a platform.

We have to realize that we are living in a world that has changed.  And not because we elected a black man as President.  But because he addresses the nation weekly using YouTube.  It’s not because Comcast offers a number of free movies on demand.  It’s because they have a Twitter account to deal with customer service issues.  It’s because the online world is no longer the online world.  The online world has crossed over into the real world.

No longer can you live in this world without being affected in some way with what is going on online.  The virtual space isn’t virtual, its physical.

This day was coming. It wasn’t long in the making, in fact, it just kind of popped up on us.  But it’s here.  And it’s time to recognize that and stop running from it.

There is a bounty of information out there, go find it.  There are millions of ways to connect with people, start connecting.  There are thousands of products competing for your business, find the best one.  Stop ignoring the world that you don’t understand.  Start taking advantage of it, otherwise the rest of the world is taking advantage of you.

There is no longer a divide between the internet and the physical world.  We’re all living in both.  Start living again.

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The Truth about the Facebook/Google War

October 29, 2008

Google embodies everything that we dream the internet can be.  Their search engine transformed the way we found information.  And through the years, it seems like they lead the way for other internet companies to build their own space.  They represent freedom.

Facebook represents the newer, more united internet.  A network of people that grew out of control because it filled a void that we never even knew existed.  They lead the way in an area that has taken off in the last 3 years.  They are the epitome of social networking, and continue to grow their aspirations almost as fast as they grow their reach.

For these two companies, to say that they don’t directly compete would be very shortsighted.  Almost every online company must be aware of others, and these are the two giants of our time.  They are far and away two of the most innovative companies on the net, and they have enough money and power to dream and accomplish many things that we have yet to even contemplate.

As they grow, they also grow fearfulof what other internet powers meet do.  Though they will not openly say it, they must be afraid of losing out on the next big thing, or being beaten to the punch of some new project they are working on.

The poll from my last post shows that the majority of respondents felt that it was a good thing that these companies have been fighting back against each other.  And of course, in the traditional business sense, competitionis a good thing.  The internet, which represents freedom of ideas and information, must be a competitive marketplace, with no one company having too much control.  In this way, the pressure these companies put on each other will lead to each of them working harder.

But competition, perhaps especially on the internet, can make companies fearful and greedy.  This is an area that we have only started to understand.  Internet startups and entrepreneurs have proven that there is a limitless value to the online world.  We have only scratched the surface of its use.  And it seems that if these two giants worked together they could unlock more of the hidden magic in this marketplace than working against each other.

In my eyes, competition is good for the consumer when a market has limits.  When companies battle over set market share, they add value to their products and get better.  But in a field that has no limits, does a head to head battle make sense?

The internet is still a fresh, relatively undiscovered field.  In the coming years, we will no doubt develop new uses that are yet to be conceived.  And it is going to take companies acting on their own terms to continue to innovate and develop these new areas.  A Facebook vs. Google internetmay not be the best scenario for anyone involved.  The two companies share many of the purest and most innovative qualities that have made both of them successful in the online world.  They should continue to develop these commonalities and find a way to coexist without competing in order to get the most out of the internet in coming years.


Google vs. Facebook: What does it all mean?

October 24, 2008

It is well documented that Google and Facebook do not like each other. They can barely stand to be in the same room or at the same conference as one another. It’s a strange relationship.  It’s not like Yahoo and Google, which is like a sibling rivalry in one industry. These are two of the most powerful companies on the internet, both with clear aspirations for the future of the web, who fear each other just enough to make coexistence impossible.

Awhile ago I read an article in Time magazine about the future of the internet, and who will have control.  The three options: Apple, Facebook, and Google.  The reason: Each are in a position to expand their territory, have the money and ingenuity to make major moves, and each have a very different belief when it comes to what the internet is best used for. The article analyzed the good and bad aspects of all three, but did not take the time to address whether it is good or bad that there is that kind of battle for control.

Should the battle even exist?Let’s take a closer look at the war waging between Google and Facebook.  First, their underlying culture as it relates to the use of the internet are conflicting. Google believes in the freedom of information and the ease of which people can access it. Whereas Facebook holds sacred the anonymity of its users and closes its network to outsiders, including Google.

When Facebook wanted an advertising partner, they went to Microsoft, another company that is not too fond of Google. Open Social, the project Google started to make social networking more inclusive, did not extend the invitation to Facebook. There is a war brewing.

Let me know if you think that an internet where Facebook and Google hate each other is good or bad for the future of the web. Is it a pure case of competition being good for the consumer? Or is there an underlying negative aspect to these two powers going toe to toe? I will let you know what I think in my next post.


Web 2.0’s Favorite Price

July 6, 2008

If you think about social networks and other web 2.0 platforms of the time, it is obvious that these websites offer the large majority of their services for free.  Web 2.0 technology was born on the idea of “free”.  It created a whole new way of looking at business models.  Create something for the masses, let them use it for free, then advertise to them as directly as possible.

It also created a whole new way of valuing companies, which continues to amaze people today.  Instead of looking at a company’s profitability, we create this image or idea of profitability in the future.  We say, “This company has so much information, and is so popular, that there must be a way to make millions.”  Facebook, which at this point continues to lose money on a daily basis, is valued around $15 Billion.

What if an established network decided to change the price of their services?  What if free was not working out?  What if Facebook implemented a $4.95 yearly subscription today?  Would people quit using it?  Would a competitor take over the market?

It seems that most people you ask would tell you its ridiculous to pay for a social network like Facebook.  but that is only because we have been so used to the idea of “free” up until now.  With the huge amount of money they could take in from a low subscription rate, the services and opportunities they could offer would be infinite.  Maybe it’s time to take a bold step.