Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Facebook May Do a Face Plant

My social-media driven teenager finally got me on to Facebook, with quite a bit of reluctance on my part.  Facebook really does have some virtues.  For my cousins all around the world, it's a great way to see and read about what's going on in their lives.  Prior to Facebook, I would have had to glean everyone's emails and hope that individual connections could be made and sustained.

Instead, the ease of putting up photos and links encourages sharing. The other person can choose the frequency and form of the updates.  Photos are the best.  It's nice: I like it.

The Facebook interface, however, is very kludgy.  The search function for a person is terrible.  Adding a search by school or past relationship produces nothing.  The search doesn't seem to take into account what's already known about me on my page.  When I mention this to my teenager or any other high school age user, they all agree, "It's not very good." They put up with it.

But, Facebook did a splashy IPO.  What are they doing with the proceeds?  Surely, sweeping aside the look and improving the performance of their basic service must be a high priority.  I do notice ads everywhere.  This is generic stock-in-trade for any social media or consumer site. What else?

One of my cousins, an IT tech guru in the U.K., has reached out to me on Google+. I am trying to tell him to leave me alone.  You mean that I have to learn the mechanics of another site?  As I extolled the virtues of Facebook and its enduring value for connecting, he replied dryly, "You're assuming that they're going to be relevant and that they'll always be around."  But, they just did a massive IPO!

In today's New York Times, the writers ask tech pundits WSFD ("What Should Facebook Do?"). Here's what one pundit says,
“If Facebook would decide to become serious about search, it would be in a position to give Google a run for its money,” said Karsten Weide, an analyst with IDC, a financial research company."
I can't believe that the analyst is serious.   Google's search learns from every user's every interaction. They recognized long ago that search would always be at the core of what they do.  Microsoft, with its technology genes and deep pockets, has made a belated, somewhat successful run at search with Bing!.  Their shareholders were skeptical about the entry into search.  In their case, I believe Microsoft had no choice but to stake out territory.

Google is now taking a run at Facebook with a social media product that seems to be preferred by tech industry folks like my cousin. Google, as is their wont, is trying to quietly shove Google+ down the throats of anyone using search, Gmail, or Google Docs.  Taking a run at Google on search is a recipe for wasting hundreds of millions  Google has an insider, one of its most visible and quoted executives at Yahoo!.  No one knows yet if the model for Yahoo! will work.

Facebook taking on Goggle in search this late in the game, without any sign of refreshing and rejuvenating its core offering would give me heartburn if I were a shareholder. How long would it be before Facebook succeeded?  What are the metrics of success? What are the costs and the expected revenues?  Somewhere out there, it seems to me there is a distinct possibility that Facebook does a full face plant.

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