The brilliance of Facebook in idea and execution needs to be reiterated as, finally, its emergence as a huge public company is leading to serious critical assessments of its business proposition.
Whatever privacy concerns we may have (and the evidence is that a majority of its users have doubts as to its trustworthiness in the use of their data), its utility has been established. However tedious some of us can find it – endless likes and comments that could take up all 24 hours of our days if we let them – we shall never turn our backs on digital interface with our various communities of family and friends. Google wasn’t first with search, or Facebook with its form of social media. But they rapidly established the gold standard in these two vast enterprises that had not been heard of when the Berlin Wall fell.
The piece in Technology Review linked below suggests that advertising-supported websites won’t work; and that with Facebook’s collapse will go web-based social networking.
I’m expecting two developments in this space. One is for privacy to rear its head as the sleeping giant it presently is seen to be. Whether in a scandal that threatens one of these major brands, or through the emergence of privacy-focused competition, the basic assumption of Facebook that most people don’t much care about privacy will either end its position as the lead social network or bring it to heel in a radical reform of its approach.
The other, which may be related, is the emergence of subscription-based services – both for Search and for Social. Given, not least, the stupendous success of AOL over a number of years in selling entry to its walled garden, it surprises me that Facebook (and also Google) have not experimented with fee-based, privacy-heavy alternatives.
I see 3 core business models emerging in the B2C web space (aside of course from the Sears Catalog approach that Amazon and Zappos have mastered, which like the QWERTY keyboard, the phone, and the bicycle, is a 19th century survival that works very nicely). 1. Paywalled info – which may well flourish at the high end of journalism as well as, of course, much more highly leveraged financial information. 2. Branded content. This will be huge. And 3. Subscription-based search and social.
Ads did not sustain the bubble that blew in 2000. The eyeballs they garner now are those of savvy squinters who have spent a decade and more jumping across and between screens and seem uninterested in being the victims of the analytics Mad Men who have groped their data.
Which brings me back to the other side of the equation. Why not a social enterprise model – not least, as we have every reason to believe that Zuck is really setting out to connect the world rather than simply be a billionaire.