Friday, 23 September 2011

Facebook is not free

With the recent fuss about Facebook adding some functionality and changing it's look yet again, I've seen some friends moan about it and others retort that they have no right to moan because they get the service for free.

Since most people don't use Facebook metrics it's fair to assume they don't appreciate the full power of Facebook as a marketing tool.  The metrics that it provides companies whose groups you join and promotions you like are at least an order of magnitude better than typical web analytics.  The reason is simple: every time you click on that blue 'Like' button on any website, you have effectively filled out a fairly comprehensive questionnaire about your sex, age, hobbies, preferences etc. - most of that stuff on your Facebook profile. In some cases this information is anonymous to the company in question, and in others it is full disclosure.  Either way, it is extremely valuable to them.

If you're not paying, it's because you're the product. So be demanding about your Facebook, holler if you don't like it, and stamp your feet at the Facebook developers. It is your inalienable right because, after all, without you Facebook would have nothing to sell.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Facebook's intrinsic value

At nearly 800 million users Facebook is a phenomenon, although not because of the aforementioned number.  Facebook's tech celebrity ancestors, Microsoft Windows and Google, have many more users.  [Microsoft even got (gets!) to charge each user a fee, which remains beyond Facebook's capability!] The reason for Facebook's hefty valuation is, basically its position as a media channel.  While more people use Google, they typically land, search, and head off to the intended destination, maybe clicking an ad or two on the way.  With Facebook, people loiter, like teenagers at a bus stop.  Average Google session: 20 seconds; average Facebook session: 20 minutes.  That's sixty times more advertising potential.  That may justify a high valuation to investors, but what about the intrinsic value of Facebook?

Well, let's take a look at the Caribbean context.  Most internet technology doesn't reach the Caribbean, either because the commercial aspects don't work (I can see it, but I can't buy it!) or because they are surplus to requirements (I don't needs Google Streetview because I know most of my island).  Yet Facebook has been a quiet phenomenon here, at least in Barbados.  Why?

First, there's the technical: there are no transactional complexities (buying, selling etc.) and Facebook comes included on most mobile devices, which is still by far the most common access platform to the internet in the region.

But there's also the cultural: social networks have always been extremely important to Caribbean societies.  The Caribbean (as in CARICOM states) is a micro diaspora, a plethora of small towns: 15 million people, scattered across 500,000 square kilometres and 20 states (that's less than 5% the size of Europe in half the number of countries).  Communities are close-knit, yet inter-island living is also very common (for work, for school, to visit relatives, for vacation and sporting events).  Such conditions are an ideal structure for an online social network.

There are also the social habits: Caribbean folk are gregarious, be it at church, beach, sports event or rum shop, we bump into the same people quite often and are usually slightly wary of strangers,  unless they are tourists, in which case we'll be polite and chatty because they typically have no long-term value in our social networks.  Our social networks are also important for commerce: most folks know that the way to get best service/price is to know someone in the company, who can do you a deal.  Even if the deal is just a standard deal, the common perception is that it's always better if you know someone on the inside.  If I'm buying a car, the first question I ask is "who do I know in car dealerships?".  Social networks matter here.

But does Facebook matter?  Sure, it's popular.  But is it adding value?

I'm not sure it is, at least not in the way that an investor might hope.  I've been using Facebook since about 2006, when I lived in Bermuda and it was a great way to keep in touch with family & friends in UK and in the Bermuda diaspora (Bermuda is a big expat crossroads because strict work permits mean the expat workforce turnover is quite high).  But my way of using Facebook has changed in recent months.

Most of us only use Facebook for the newsroll: that perpetually scrolling screen of updates from friends and groups we subscribe to.  I started using Twitter, and the interface is very similar, scrolling through people's updates (tweets), except in Twitter you 'follow' people's updates - they don't have to accept you as a friend first.  So you can follow your favorite celebrity or publication or acquaintance or friend without having them potentially knowing all about you, your friends, your photos etc.  So I wanted a way to splice the two together into a single newsroll, as well as send an update to both at the same time  (or toggle to just one for those private, friend-only thoughts). Enter Tweetdeck.  Just what I wanted: it supports multiple Twitter accounts, allows you to comment on and 'like' people's updates, including photos, and it includes Google Buzz too.  Perfect.  It's owned by Twitter, too.

Now, I no longer use Facebook.  Oh, I subscribe to it, and I update it - still very much an active member of the social network.  But the adverts?  The apps? All these 'value-added' services? Nah.  I just have a screen full of updates, grey for Twitter, blue for Facebook and red for Buzz.  And that's it.
Consumer 1, Producer/Investor 0.

But for how long?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Testing from BlogAway

Just testing posting directly from BlogAway app for Android (the best I have found in terms of being able to manage and edit multiple blogs, both off- and online)