The Facebook Problem // Random Thoughts

Wow, Facebook is a force. I was on it pretty early for an old guy (we didn't even have .edu, or .anything, when I was in school) because I knew a guy who worked there who got me one of the first corporate invitations. Since then, I've watched entire companies come on, and the age go up and early-adopter-ness go down. Last summer, most of the people I knew from high school joined over about a month. This month it's my middle school class. People who haven't communicated in close to three decades are reminiscing, and scheming about reunions (you know who you are). That's not interesting. You already know that. You've either seen it happen, or perhaps you're one of the latecomers making it happen.

What may be interesting is that this is at least the third go-round for social networking. After Friendster and the MySpace came and went, I learned something: we don't know what the next hot thing will be, but we know it won't be the same as the current hot thing. It seems online socializing is a migratory behavior. So I say with confidence that Facebook's reign will fade, only to be replaced by some other shiny new object, which will in turn be pushed aside. You get it.

But Facebook is a little different than those that came before. First, it's a bit more utilitarian, which seems to be a key to longevity (LinkedIn, AIM). More importantly, the fact that the late adopters are joining en masse suggests that there's an opportunity to keep people around. These guys just got here, and by definition they're not as interested in the next new thing. A lot of these people never joined MySpace at all.

To that end, here's my free advice for Facebook. I'm not here to solve the fact that you may not have a sustainable or even profitable business model. But I do have two suggestions that will keep you alive and relevant for longer.

- Launch Facebook Business. Take LinkedIn out at the ankles. People like Facebook because it's easy and fun. I get ahold of people all the time that I never seem to catch via email; my guess is because it doesn't feel like work. So apply that same user experience to the kinds of "work" people do on LinkedIn. My guess is a ton of people are carrying dual accounts. It won't be tough to get them to forget about the other guys is you start offering similar features, and probably create a wall between business and personal.

- Continue to up the utility. A big frustration is that I now have at least half a dozen contact databases. Mobile Me, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, AIM, Skype, SMS. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few. Sometimes I have to look in multiple places to find someone I want to contact. What we need is a central place from which I can contact anyone within my reach. Why do I have to do the searching and decide how I'm going to communicate? It's like Grand Central for data. Facebook can offer this functionality and really make people beholden to it.

Facebook needs to think, and act, on this now, while it's on top. Don't be like the others and wait until it's too late. Keep growing your user base, and I'm sure you'll figure out a way to make money eventually.