Why Facebook is the New Yahoo

Facebook's awkward attempts to copy Google+ smack of a quiet desperation.
Posted September 15, 2011

Mike Elgan

(Page 1 of 2)

Sure, Facebook looks massively successful. With a mind-boggling 750 million users, the social site can do no wrong, right?


Look closer, and it looks like Facebook can do nothing right. The company has tried and failed to launch or integrate new services that might thrill users. But users aren’t thrilled. And now its strategy appears to be: Just copy Google+.

Don’t look now, but Facebook is quickly becoming the new Yahoo.

Why Facebook Succeeded in the Past

In technology, timing is everything. In order to succeed, you need to have not only the right product, but come out with it at the right time.

Most of the startups that fail in Silicon Valley have killer ideas or great technology. But most of them are too late -- they’re trying to succeed with an idea that’s already “out there.”

Another huge chunk of these failures result from great technology that’s too early. Companies run out of money before the public is ready to embrace what they’re offering.

Facebook’s success can be attributed at least as much to perfect timing as it can to the quality of the service.

Facebook emerged at exactly the moment when college students wanted an exclusive club, away from the rowdy teenagers and noisy bands that dominated MySpace. The site started in 2004 as a private networking site for elite Harvard students, and soon students at other Boston colleges, Ivy League schools, NYU, MIT and Stanford.

Later, the site rolled it out to all college students, then later still to all high school students, and then to employees of a few elite technology companies.

Facebook got famous for keeping the riff-raff out when exclusivity was prized in social networking. But then social networks stopped being about social climbing, and started being about facilitating existing connections.

At just the moment when the world was ready for everybody using social networks, Facebook let everybody in.

Here’s the thing: Facebook’s “idea” isn’t particularly interesting. Its design isn’t revolutionary. The company’s engineering isn’t especially impressive. But Facebook’s timing has been perfect.

Why Facebook May Fail in the Future

Facebook knows what its members apparently do not, which is that today’s Facebook won’t allow the service to survive on the social Internet of tomorrow.

Facebook used to be special. But now social is everywhere. Facebook finds itself trying to sell snow to Eskimos.

The only way for Facebook (or any online service for that matter) to succeed is to re-invent itself. Facebook is scrambling to do so, trying this, trying that, desperately looking to thrill users with expanded engagement with existing social graphs. And Facebook has failed again and again.

Facebook tried to become the default e-mail client for members when it rolled out Facebook Messages, which enabled people to use a facebook.com e-mail address. Remember that?

Neither do I. Nobody uses it.

Then Facebook saw that FourSquare and Groupon were gaining some traction with social location check-in and coupons, and so it launched Places and Deals.

Nobody cared, and Facebook killed both of them.

Facebook would get a huge boost from usage on tablets -- tablets and social networks were made for each other, because they’re both used in the same way at the same time (most heavily while at home during leisure time). Yet Facebook has failed to come out with a tablet app, even though the iPad shipped a year and a half ago!

Now Facebook’s desperate new strategy appears to be: Just copy Google+.


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Tags: Facebook, social networking, Yahoo, google+

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