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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