Where does Facebook go from here?


Obviously the Facebook IPO has absolutely dominated the business news this past week, and for very good reason.

Not only was it the biggest technology IPO in history, but the company in just a few short years has embedded itself into the very fabric of the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

And the tale of Mark Zuckerberg and that of the founding and the beyond supersonic growth of the business is exactly the kind of feel good, incredibly inspirational entrepreneurial success story that America and the world desperately need.

So yes, the Facebook IPO is greatly inspirational.

And its product is off the charts awesome - intuitive, fast, elegant, user-friendly software as a service that allows networks of people to share and connect with a speed, ease, and breadth like never before in history.

So Facebook is great.  Facebook is cool. I have and regularly use my Facebook account as do a lot of people (though by no means most) I know.

But moving forward, as a business with real big legs, of that I am not so sure.

You see, Facebook falls into that category of things that are nice and interesting and kind of fun - all of which of course are very good things and ones on which you can build a very nice business.

Think fashion, music, and most forms of entertainment.

But does Facebook really feel like something that anyone really needs?

And it goes deeper than that.

You see, Facebook, for lack of a better word, for too many people, even its most active users, is actually quite annoying.

Now I admit that a lot of my evidence and thought process here is anecdotal, but really when was the last time that you asked someone their opinion of Facebook they came back with anything other than some variation of the below:

"I have an account but I don't really use it”

“I just don't get what the big deal is"

Or yes, the bane of all of our Facebook’s existence:  "I just can't stand people on Facebook who just brag incessantly about how great their lives are and do so like 42,000 times per day!”

Okay, so there is a strong argument, like with many new technologies that all of us just really don't know how to use Facebook yet.

And as we do, the value of the product will naturally increase and the annoyance factor will go down.

But in the case of Facebook, I am not so sure.

The best analogy I have to make on this point - and not coincidentally, the company that Facebook is most often compared to - is Google.

Google, from its first days, gave users an experience that was both incredibly exhilarating and useful.

How many times have you interfaced with a Google search and just been blown away by the speed and accuracy of the results?

And here is the key point - how many times have you done so in an "economic" frame of mind - i.e. searching for a product or service for which you were in a buying mode?

This strong intent of most Google searches is at the heart of the unique usefulness for advertisers and thus the vast and awe-inspiring profitability for Google's business model.

Now let's compare this to Facebook.

Sure, it is interesting to see what some long-lost and distant connections are up to.

And yes, this "voyeuristic pleasure" does make the Facebook experience strangely and uniquely addictive.

But, is so doing really solving an obvious and pressing problem?

It is fine if it doesn't, but at the level of current valuation of the company, the assumption is that Facebook will be solving the kinds of problems that people would pay far more for than the very obvious, pressing, and actionable ones that Google search does.

My gut tells me this won't happen.

Facebook will remain a cultural icon, but as a big, public company its monetization prospects will most likely resemble that of other "nice to have" technology services that inevitably disappoint on their so very high expectations.

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