Category Archives: Facebook

Why Facebook is Killing Silicon Valley

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…

— John F. Kennedy, September 1962

I teach entrepreneurship for ~50 student teams a year from engineering schools at Stanford, Berkeley, and Columbia. For the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps this year I’ll also teach ~150 teams led by professors who want to commercialize their inventions. Our extended teaching team includes venture capitalists with decades of experience.

The irony is that as good as some of these nascent startups are in material science, sensors, robotics, medical devices, life sciences, etc., more and more frequently VCs whose firms would have looked at these deals or invested in these sectors, are now only interested in whether it runs on a smart phone or tablet. And who can blame them.

Facebook and Social Media
Facebook has adroitly capitalized on market forces on a scale never seen in the history of commerce. For the first time, startups can today think about a Total Available Market in the billions of users (smart phones, tablets, PC’s, etc.) and aim for hundreds of millions of customers. Second, social needs previously done face-to-face, (friends, entertainment, communication, dating, gambling, etc.) are now moving to a computing device. And those customers may be using their devices/apps continuously. This intersection of a customer base of billions of people with applications that are used/needed 24/7 never existed before.

The potential revenue and profits from these users (or advertisers who want to reach them) and the speed of scale of the winning companies can be breathtaking. The Facebook IPO has reinforced the new calculus for investors. In the past, if you were a great VC, you could make $100 million on an investment in 5-7 years. Today, social media startups can return 100’s of millions or even billions in less than 3 years. Software is truly eating the world.

If investors have a choice of investing in a blockbuster cancer drug that will pay them nothing for fifteen years or a social media application that can go big in a few years, which do you think they’re going to pick? If you’re a VC firm, you’re phasing out your life science division. As investors funding clean tech watch the Chinese dump cheap solar cells in the U.S. and put U.S. startups out of business, do you think they’re going to continue to fund solar? And as Clean Tech VC’s have painfully learned, trying to scale Clean Tech past demonstration plants to industrial scale takes capital and time past the resources of venture capital. A new car company? It takes at least a decade and needs at least a billion dollars. Compared to IOS/Android apps, all that other stuff is hard and the returns take forever.

Instead, the investor money is moving to social media. Because of the size of the market and the nature of the applications, the returns are quick – and huge. New VC’s, focused on both the early and late stage of social media have transformed the VC landscape. (I’m an investor in many of these venture firms.) But what’s great for making tons of money may not be the same as what’s great for innovation or for our country. Entrepreneurial clusters like Silicon Valley (or NY, Boston, Austin, Beijing, etc.) are not just smart people and smart universities working on interesting things. If that were true we’d all still be in our parents garage or lab. Centers of innovation require investors funding smart people working on interesting things — and they invest in those they believe will make their funds the most money. And for Silicon Valley the investor flight to social media marks the beginning of the end of the era of venture capital-backed big ideas in science and technology.

Don’t Worry We Always Bounce Back
The common wisdom is that Silicon Valley has always gone through waves of innovation and each time it bounces back by reinventing itself.

[Each of these waves of having a clean beginning and end is a simplification. But it makes the point that each wave was a new investment thesis with a new class of investors as well as startups.] The reality is that it took venture capital almost a decade to recover from the dot-com bubble. And when it did Super Angels and new late stage investors whose focus was social media had remade the landscape, and the investing thesis of the winners had changed. This time the pot of gold of social media may permanently change that story.

What Next
It’s sobering to realize that the disruptive startups in the last few years not in social media – Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Google driverless cars, Google Glasses – were the efforts of two individuals, Elon Musk, and Sebastian Thrun (with the backing of Google.) (The smartphone and tablet computer, the other two revolutionary products were created by one visionary in one extraordinary company.) We can hope that as the Social Media wave runs its course a new wave of innovation will follow. We can hope that some VC’s remain contrarian investors and avoid the herd. And that some of the newly monied social media entrepreneurs invest in their dreams. But if not, the long-term consequences for our national interests will be less than optimum.

For decades the unwritten manifesto for Silicon Valley VC’s has been: We choose to invest in ideas, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Here’s hoping that one day they will do it again.

Read more Steve Blank posts at

WhatsApp and Facebook’s Try-Before-You-Buy M&A Strategy

Why Facebook Chooses to Compete with Companies They Plan to Acquire

Facebook just acquired WhatsApp in what could be one of the most massive exits in history, not to mention the most beautiful rags-to-riches story the Silicon Valley has ever seen. While we’re all kicking ourselves over missing out on the $19B in cash and stock that the 55 WhatsApp employees are now enjoying, our minds naturally wander to “who’s next.”

WhatsApp’s acquisition could be evidence for a unique M&A tactic that Facebook has been using recently for its mobile app acquisitions: try before you buy. If it’s correct, Flipboard could be next up to the cash in.

Facebook has been vocal in its efforts to modularize its platform on mobile. Instead of there being a single Facebook app, it is being separated out into stand-alone applications relevant to different feature sets and user behaviors such as communication and photo sharing.

Since Facebook was not originally built as a modular platform, the question naturally arises, “How should Facebook approach splitting itself up? Build anew or buy?”

Looking back on recent M&A activity aimed at building out Facebook’s mobile app ecosystem, the answer seems to be… “yes.” Facebook has been simultaneously building its own standalone applications and acquiring existing ones. What is interesting is that what they build often competes directly with what they buy:

  • Facebook Camera was released right around the time that Faceook acquired Instagram, but was under development before the offer was made. Zuckerberg said that Camera, whose features are almost identical to Instagram’s, should give Instagram some “healthy compeition.”
  • Facebook Messenger has a similar value prop as WhatsApp — you can message anyone from anywhere in the world over a data network or internet. While Zuckerberg claims that Messenger and WhatsApp will serve different purposes post acquisition, they will still inevitably continue to cannibalize each other in some form or another.
  • Facebook Poke, a blatant ripoff of Snapchat, was build in part by Zuckerberg himself to compete with the company that had just turned down a massive acquisition offer. After a dramatic series of funding rounds and higher acquisition offers, Snapchat still remains independent today.
  • Facebook Paper is a social news aggregation application that was released fairly recently. With its beautiful interface, it has been hailed as a Flipboard-killer by many. But if we follow the pattern, its existence could suggest Facebook is actually interested in acquiring Flipboard, which shares many of the same features and even UI intricacies.

So, why would Facebook battle it out with companies they are planning to buy anyway?


The Benefits of Try-Before-You-Buy M&A

The act of competing with a prospective M&A has a number of benefits both in evaluating and negotiating the M&A as well as preparing for the M&A integration itself.

  • Kicking the Tires: Competition can help evaluate whether or not a startup is actually a significant threat. If users easily move away from a startup to the incumbent’s competing platform, then an M&A isn’t necessary. Facebook built Poke in a dramatic move to try to test just that for Snapchat. Unfortunately, Snapchat passed the test and turned down subsequent acquisition offers.
  • Driving Down Price: While the ethical implications here are questionable, threatening a startup with competition can drive the buy price down if executed successfully. An exit opportunity is a whole lot more enticing when a major incumbent with plentiful resources is building your direct competitor.
  • Understanding the Space: Building an application similar to one being considered for acquisition can help designers and business people understand how their users’ behaviors could change and how strategically aligned that technology is to the product roadmap.
  • Building the Piping: It also allows engineers to get a better sense of how the technology is built and how it can be integrated into current systems. This helps with the technical analysis pre-M&A as well as setting up integration infrastructure to hit the ground running post-M&A.

The M&A strategy for a corporation as large and influential as Facebook is obviously not as simple as the heuristic outlined here. Try-Before-You-Buy M&A mostly applies to consumer-facing applications in line with Facebook’s modular product strategy. Acquisitions of back-end products like analytics and advertising tools and acquisitions for talent follow their own patterns.

On a related note, companies like Microsoft and Zynga have gotten into a lot of trouble and received a lot of bad press for using this M&A tactic, but without actually executing an M&A. They used their might to blatantly rip off startups and force them out of existence. Fortunately, the volatility of the social space, prevents Facebook from committing such a deed — the failure of Facebook Poke comes to mind as an example.

So, for the good folks at Flipboard who have worked tirelessly to create a fantastic mobile reading experience: don’t let Facebook’s bullying get you down, it’s just their way of saying they like you…

Follow me on Twitter. I’ve got a lot more to say.

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A Brief Primer on Human Social Networks, or How to Keep $16 Billion In Your Pocket

1. Listen to social scientists. 2. Don’t reinvent sociology 101. 3. … 4. Keep $16 billion in your pocket

Over at The New York Times, Jenna Wortham wonders whether Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp points to a resurgence of small social networks. The article is titled “ WhatsApp Deal Bets on a Few Fewer ‘Friends’” and she asks a lot of good questions:

In buying WhatsApp this week, Facebook is betting that the future of social networking will depend not just on broadcasting to the masses but also the ability to quickly and efficiently communicate with your family and closest confidants — those people you care enough about to have their numbers saved on your smartphone. … Facebook has long defined the digital social network, and the average adult Facebook user has more than 300 friends. But the average adult has far fewer friends — perhaps just a couple in many cases, researchers say — whom they talk to regularly in their real-world social network. ..

Whether the two kinds of social networks can coexist and thrive remains to be seen.

tl,dr: The “two kinds of social networks” of primary and secondary ties can and will coexist and thrive because they have always co-existed and thrived.

For details, read on.

Let’s start by unpacking the word “friend” here because Facebook’s use of the word of “friend” to describe everyone to whom you connect with on Facebook has caused a lot of confusion in this space. We all know that a “friend” is not a “friend” is not a “friend,” so let’s not use one word.

In fact, sociologists have long known and talked about “two kinds of social networks,” and refer to them alternatively as primary and secondary ties, or weak and strong ties. The concept can be found in every introductory sociology textbook because it is foundational to human social interaction. When I used to teach introduction to sociology, it would come up in the first or second week of the class.

Humans are embedded in social networks, and always have been. In fact, research on hunter-gatherer tribes shows that even those early social networks have resembled ours. Human social ties, however, come in a range of strength and intimacy, and always have and always will.

Technology will not alter these basic realities because technology doesn’t make us into new kinds of humans; rather, it just alters the environment in which we act.

Primary social ties, or strong ties, refer to the close, often face-to-face (though not necessarily in today’s world) connections of close, intimate and strong relations with other people. These are the people whose shoulder you expect to cry on in difficult times, and perhaps the first people with whom you share good news. Without primary ties, people tend to feel lost and isolated. Such ties are of great importance to many aspects of a person’s health and well-being. In general, weak ties, no matter how numerous, cannot make up for lack of primary ties. (This is not to be confused with the statement that weak ties are unnecessary or irrelevant. The point is that these are not either/or).

Secondary or weak social ties tend to be the ties that form the larger social networks that humans are embedded in. (Theses are not to be confused with bridge ties, which connect otherwise disparate social networks and tend to be weaker ties but are not the same concept). In the modern world, these can range from workplace acquaintances to former and current classmates, to more distant kin and other non-kin. As far as we can tell, even hunter-gatherers had such weaker ties in their social networks, so these have always been with us. Weaker ties are important for a variety of reasons: they provide people with company, information, access to resources in other social networks, entertainment, and a pool from which one can draw stronger ties. Research shows that weak-tie networks are essential in many regards, including access to information and opportunity.

At this point, you might be wondering whether the so-called Dunbar’s number, positing a theoretical upper limit of about 150 people in natural human social networks, refers to weaker or stronger ties. Neither, actually. Not in the modern world, at least.

Dunbar’s number is a conjecture about the natural upper bound on the unassisted cognitive processing of information about reciprocal relationships in a social network by the people in them. Dunbar’s calculation is based on the relationship between the size of the primate neocortex and primate group sizes projected onto human social networks. It is an important insight but one that has been applied too widely without understanding what it actually means.

Maintaining a social network requires a lot of heavy cognitive processing. To whom do you owe favors, and who double-crossed whom last? If you grab that fruit from that ape, who will come to his aid, and who can you count on to come to your aid? Who had responded positively to your attempt to flirt and who was your competitor? Remember, the information you need to keep in your head is exponential to the group size: in a group of five, you potentially have five factorial (5!) or 120 groupings. Just double that to a group of 10 and now you potentially have 3,628,800 groupings. Of course, in reality, not every grouping makes sense, so the numbers in practice are much smaller; but the point is that as groups get larger, the information entropy grows very fast. It’s harder to cooperate, scheme and thrive effectively in larger groups.

Dunbar’s key insight is that as human social networks grew in size, human language (which other primates don’t have) likely developed for us to better keep track of such complexities of group interaction (derided as “gossip” but key to survival in a social group—call it “group informatics” if you want to avoid the judgmentalism). That’s why Dunbar’s seminal book is called “Grooming, Gossip and Language.” (Grooming is how other primates interact to convey social information —they are not really after eating each other’s lice, it’s a social behavior—while we, as humans, talk, or gossip if you will).

Dunbar also predicted that the size of our neocortex, in comparison with other primates, means that we can likely keep track of a maximum of 150 people and the relationships between them all in our head—if (and this is a big if) our social cognitive processing works the same way as primates. As you can see, there are a lot of ifs and constraints in his proposal that don’t necessarily apply universally. Dunbar’s number is a conjecture about a world without writing, let alone modern technology, both of which aid in social network maintenance. It should be clear to anyone that tools such as Facebook make it easier to keep in touch with larger social networks, as did postal letters and the telephone. Dunbar’s number is best thought of as a suggestion about the size of a social group that has to function together to get something done—say, a company in the military—rather than an upper limit to the size of human social networks in general.

In fact, research finds no such small upper limit on human social network size in the modern era. However, research also finds that most of us are truly intimate with only a few people. Hence, my interpretation of research in this field is that primary social network size is fairly constant for most humans throughout history and is in the single-digits, while weak-tie networks in modern era show a much greater variation than posited by the Dunbar number and likely did for millennia. Research suggests that modern Americans’ total social network size can be as big as 500-600 people.

Finally, weak and strong ties are not in some binary dichotomy, opposed to each other and necessarily displacing each other. Tie strength is a continuum, and not all weak ties are equally weak. Neither is tie-strength static: some weak ties will become closer over time and some strong ties will drop from circles of intimacy. Such is life, and has likely been the case even in hunter-gatherer tribes. All that said, of course, there is more variation and fluidity to social networks with industrialization, migration, urbanization and globalization.

Finally let’s come to the final quote:

Chiqui Matthew, 35, who works in finance, said he preferred services like WhatsApp. “I fear all communication in the digital age is being reduced to shouting in a crowded theater,” he said in an email. “Everything is absolute, declarative, exclaimed, public and generally lacking in the nuance of face-to-face conversation. I like the digital version of a ‘cocktail party whisper.’ An intimation meant to be intimate.”

What this person is getting at is that our communication needs change depending on the type of tie. An engagement or a new baby may well be best announced to a large group of weaker ties, whereas most day-to-day conversation is carried out with our smaller, primary social networks. (Yep, Facebook newsfeed versus WhatsApp). This is not an either/or statement. Both types of conversations and interactions are primal, important and central to human social interaction.

Facebook’s key problem for many people has been what academics sometimes call “context-collapse,” which is the sense that Facebook sometimes feels like an extended Thanksgiving dinner where everyone you have ever known is at the table. This is an identity-constraining environment as it’s hard to know how to address such a large crowd at the same time. People have been grappling with this for a long time and have come up with a variety of solutions, including fleeing to Twitter & Instagram and, yes, Whatsapp.

Social scientists have long been trying to communicate this to technology companies: it is normal, natural and healthy to have different communication needs at different levels of one’s social network. One wonders if, early on, Mark Zuckerberg had listened to social scientists rather than declaring “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”, would he now have $16 billion more in his pocket?

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Facebook Tests Mobile “Highlights”, A Cheat Sheet To Your Friends’ Lives

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Facebook said there were just big fixes in its 7.0 iOS update it released yesterday, but actually there’s a big new feature it’s testing called Highlights. Inside the People tab you’ll see Highlights including friends’ Life Events and people you’ve interacted with recently. If you’re bored of News Feed and want to know what do next, Highlights could lead the way. Or you might just never use it.

Also released yesterday was a 3.2 update to Facebook Messenger featuring a new integration with the core app for all users, despite the update’s What’s New listing just bug fixes.  If you shortcut from Facebook to Messenger by tapping its icon in the tab bar, you’ll see a “Touch To Return To Facebook” notification bar at top that lets you instantly switch back. As Facebook moves towards more of an app suite strategy with companions like Messenger, allowing for seamless switching back and forth will be important. Another new messaging-related feature is the addition of a slide-out buddy list button in the top right of Facebook for iOS that pops people to Messenger to start a chat.

Touch To Return To Facebook

Facebook HighlightsBut the bigger deal is the new People tab, which is currently available to just a subset of iOS users. Previously, the Requests tab in the tab bar at the bottom of Facebook for iOS just opened up Friend Requests and People You May know. Now called “People”, the tab includes the subtabs Everyone, which displays all your friends in alphabetical order, and History, which shows a reverse chronological list of people you’ve interacted with through messaging, liking posts, and other actions. The latter is somewhere between a simplified Activity Log and a reminder of who you might want to continue conversations with.

But the first and default tab in People is Highlights. It starts with new Friend Requests up top, though it hides old ones you’ve left in limbo under a See More button. Next is a panel of Friends With Birthdays Today, a duplicate of what’s in the Events section of the app.

After that is the most interesting part of Highlights: a list of recent Life Events from friends such as a new romantic relationship, starting a job, moving, graduating, or anything posted through the Life Events creator. If you don’t care about seeing the BuzzFeed articles and random photos your friends fill the News Feed with, this part of Highlights could give you a quick way to catch up with important milestones in friends’ lives.

Facebook HistoryBeyond Life Events is Friends With Upcoming Birthdays so you can plan to actually send them a heartfelt message instead of a shallow “HBD!” wall post. Then there’s People You’ve Contacted, which is quite similar to the History tab. And finally there’s a seemingly endless list of People You May Know.

With so much overlap between the Highlights and History subtabs as well as the Events section, I’d expect some of this to be redesigned or cut before/if the People tab is rolled out to everyone. Still, Highlights is a fascinating alternative take on the News Feed that focuses on people, communication, and big moments instead of the day-to-day ephemera. As Facebook’s feed moves more towards news sharing and public-facing content, it’s good see a feature dedicated squarely to connecting us with our friends’ lives. After all, that was Facebook’s original mission.

Postcard For iPhone Lets You Post To Any Social Network At Once, Even Your Own Website

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A new application, Postcard, launching today, will help you cross-post to various social media websites, but with a few unique twists. Unlike similar tools, this “Swiss Army Knife” of an app lets you set any one social network, or even your own website, as the content’s host. So, for example, if you run multiple Twitter accounts, the app could allow you to tweet from one, while the others re-tweet you.

In other words, Postcard is a pro tool designed for those whose job likely involves social media management of some sort.

What’s old is new again, perhaps? In the early days of Web 2.0, with the arrival of social media, a series of applications like, HelloTxt, or Socialthing, helped early adopters handle the psychological overload of having to post to multiple social media websites at once. Today, those consumer-facing businesses have generally shut down, with companies turning instead to pro tools like HootSuite to manage their online presence, while self-promoters might use something like Buffer or IFTTT to manage their daily social media workflows.


The problem with many of the current solutions is that they’re designed to automate sending messages from one account or service to another, but that’s generally not how social media is used. Sometimes, you’ll cross-post the same message everywhere, but generally you would pick and choose the right destination(s) depending on the type of content being shared.

Postcard gives you that post-by-post control about where and how your message should be shared. This includes posting to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or LinkedIn, for example, but also to your own website.

For this, there’s a WordPress plugin available, as well as a “Custom Network” feature which lets developers configure any web server to receive content via the Postcard API.

What’s more, you can designate a website or a social network as the content’s “host” using Postcard, which sets it as the primary destination which is then shared via a link to the other networks. This could be your website, as noted, or it could be Facebook, or Twitter, or something else. That means you could post long-form content which is then shared and truncated when posted to Twitter, or you could leverage your Twitter network to draw users back to your Facebook page, or all your social media sites could just serve as an extension of your company’s website itself…or whatever else you want.

Postcard was designed by Kyle Newsome, a WordPress blogger himself, who says he came up with the idea because he was struggling to keep posting great content on his website, despite the fact he was posting to social networks multiple times per day.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 12.07.49 PM

The initial focus for the app, which has been in beta testing over part of last year, was more so on the WordPress angle, but is now more broadly focused on supporting a variety of use cases.

“I wanted to find a way to keep doing the social media part but proverbially ‘hit two birds with one stone’ and also have the ability to search, filter and display feeds of my content however I please,” Newsome explained at the time. “So Postcard was born of the idea to help website owners get their own websites communicating on a social frequency and keeping content fresh.”

The app itself is a free download with support for 3 networks, and you can purchase an additional 2, 5, or unlimited networks ($0.99, $2.99, $4.99 respectively) via in-app purchases.

You can grab it here on iTunes.

This app will put your Facebook and Twitter relationships to work — for your company, that is (exclusive)

Percolate knows your online friends are marketing gold.

Three years ago, Percolate launched to help brands create better content. The startup’s first app set out to solve an efficiency problem by enabling brands to source photography across departments. Percolate’s new iOS app, however —Percolate Employee — was created to solve an entirely different problem.

Now, for the sake of example, pretend you work at Fortune 500 company. With Percolate Employee, your company will regularly send you company-approved content. This content, chosen by a company’s marketing overlords, is encouraged to be shared out across your personal networks.

Collectively, the hope is to fan the flame of product launches — or in the case of crises, put out fires.

From the point of view of a marketing exec, it’s easy to see why mouths would water over an employee-led army of tweets and shares. Noah Brier, Percolate’s CEO and co-founder, tells us he wants to “expand what it means to be a marketer.”

From the point of view of an average employee, it’s more of a mixed bag. According to research we recently concluded, around 17 percent of all employees are required to use their personal social media accounts to spread company messaging, and a further 27 percent are not required but are strongly encouraged to do so. And around 65 percent of that group said they felt their online privacy wasn’t being respected.

As one of these respondents noted, “I have to be very careful about everything I say to my friends as I conduct business activities over the same accounts. My Facebook has become a more interactive version of my LinkedIn profile, with only the blandest conversations with my friends.”

In an idealistic sense, Percolate Employee could serve a dual role: it’s a marketing machine and also a tool for helping employees stay up to date on the latest announcements. If this tool is abused, however, it will further sink the social networks of many into a spammy pool of brand marketing nonsense. It could quite literally lead to a 500 percent increases in SaaS-related shares on your aunt’s Facebook wall.

Pushing for authenticity will be a tough balancing act, but Percolate clearly believes it’s cut out for the job.

For now, it’s at least clear that Percolate Employee will pique the interest of enterprise marketing departments everywhere.

Facebook And Twitter Want To Be Each Other—But Shouldn’t

Originally published article:

February 12, 2014 Social

Facebook wants to be Twitter. Twitter wants to be Facebook. Neither will succeed.

Recently, it’s become clear that Twitter and Facebook have big ambitions: Twitter wants to be Facebook and Facebook wants to be Twitter.

Twitter, essentially a news site, wants to be more friendly. Facebook, essentially a place to hang out with friends, wants to be more newsy. Will either succeed?

All The News You Don’t Want To Read

Facebook, from its inception, has been social. It’s where we hang out with old high school classmates (literally). It’s where we congregate with family and neighbors online. If we mix with work colleagues, we only connect on Facebook with those we really like—or pretend to.

In fact, more than 85% of U.S. adults turn to social media for connecting with friends or family, according to Pew Research. News is not the primary reason we turn to Facebook.

At least, not work-related news. In my case, I mostly don’t care about news being shared by friends because, no offense to them, but my good friends are not consumed by technology as I am. The news I most crave directly relates to my work (except, of course, for my obsession with Arsenal—I’ll read anything related to Arsenal, even though none of my friends share this obsession).

As such, I can’t see myself using Facebook’s new Paper app, which delivers a personalized news feed based in large part on what my friends are reading, liking and posting. Exactly the news I don’t want to read.

I’m not alone in this. According to Digimind, 62.5% of companies use Twitter to glean market intelligence, surpassed only by LinkedIn (69.4%). Facebook? Less than 50%.

Pew Research finds just 4% of people list Facebook as the primary way they get news, even though a whopping 78% stumble upon news while on Facebook despite not looking for it. Newsy information, in other words, is not Facebook’s raison d’être. Friendship and personal communication are.

Broadcasting Friendship To The Twitterverse

Twitter is busy with its own growing pains. As revealed in the company’s first earnings call, Twitter’s user growth is steady but slow. The reason, in large part, is that Twitter is somewhat unapproachable to the casual user. It’s unclear what one should do on Twitter.

Twitter recognizes this problem and has been trying to make signing up easier, offering suggestions as to whom to follow and making it clear that Twitter offers plenty of value even if you don’t have anything to tweet out yourself, necessarily.

This is one of Twitter’s greatest strengths and weaknesses: It’s primarily useful as a news broadcast and consumption site. While Twitter has been trying to make its service friendlier by elevating direct messages to first-class status, among other things, it’s still primarily a news aggregation service, even if it’s not necessarily “friendly.”

That’s fine if you, like I, use Twitter as a work tool. Sure, I’m friends with some of the people I interact with on Twitter, but Twitter doesn’t seem to be the ideal place for friends to congregate online.

Different Kinds Of Friends

It strikes me that both services would do better to improve their own services rather than attempt to ape the other’s.

Could Facebook become my news hub for all-things-tech and Arsenal? I suppose. But then it wouldn’t be the place I spend time with friends, who largely don’t share these interests.

Could Twitter become more approachable so my parents and neighbors could chat with me? Perhaps. But I don’t really want our interaction confined to 140-character bursts and hyperlinks.

Instead, I’d argue Twitter has far more potential were it to truly embrace its mission of being the world’s real-time information hub. It’s still hard to find information, which is why I turn to Google for search. It’s also too hard to pare down the noise of my Twitter stream to only glean the tweets that I really care about.

In similar fashion, Facebook needs to ensure it remains relevant to a broader set of demographics. My kids have turned to Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook owns the former, yet hardly ties the two services together and has no relationship with Snapchat, making it harder for me to connect with my kids wherever they happen to be.

Facebook also needs to offer better control over what I see in my Facebook feed. Its algorithms don’t give me what I actually want to see, forcing me to constantly reset the news feed to “most recent news” because I discover Facebook is hiding all the good stuff.

In short, neither Facebook nor Twitter has yet delivered a truly exceptional experience in the areas for which people love them. They should focus on being themselves before they bother cross-dressing as the other.

Lead image by lioman123 on Flickr

What is left when you log out of Facebook?

How Facebook transitioned to being more of a platform than a product

Facebook has become a great platform, and maybe losing some of its mojo as a product. I was spending so much time on the website and iPhone app that I decided to logout, as a short experiment.

To be clear, I am still “on” Facebook, I am just not logged in anymore on or the mobile application. But iOS7 and OSX still have my OAuth credentials, and that way I am still plugged in to Facebook’s platform, just not the product anymore.

The two aspects I was the most afraid of loosing were the events and messenger. Facebook really succeeded in making my personal day-to-day social life revolve around their Event feature so that my friends who stayed out of Facebook stopped being invited to parties (crazy, I know! but that’s the subject for another post). As for messenger, some people seem to think Facebook is the best way to reach me, and I can’t have vacation auto-responder, email forward or anything to stay out really.

But in both cases, and many more, there’s an app for it. I kept the Facebook messenger iPhone app, and thanks to Sunrise calendar app, all of my events are still in my phone. I can also still use many apps with Single Sign-On, so I am not sure what I am missing.

I have started using Twitter a little more, reading more blogs, and news that I used to, and I even found time to think and write a few blog posts (this one being the first I’ll publish). Important to note that I have tried many applications lately, and often connected them to Facebook too, so I am not just leaving them, or switching to Twitter.

Really, I feel Facebook has built an awesome platform, and I am not sure I’d really need to log back in to the feed or profile (I certainly will). But this has been many years in the making, and with their new approach to build an ecosystem of applications, they might just be, once again, one-step ahead of the curve!

Further Reading

Social products win with utility, not invites (Guest Post)

 — Note from Andrew: I’ve recently traded a series of interesting emails on the evolution of social products and how the things that worked …

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A Facebook Life

Posted 2 hours ago by (@joshconstine)

On Facebook, life begins at conception. “We’re expecting!”, your parents post. You don’t have fingers but you’re already accruing likes. A shared sonogram means hundreds have seen you before you’ve even opened your eyes. You have a Facebook presence despite lacking a physical one.

Think about that for a second. Like it or not, in 10 years Facebook has changed everything. Each phase of this life is playing out right now across a billion people.

You exist in limbo until you turn 13. Your parents can post whatever they want about you, but you’re not supposed to sign up. But perhaps your curiosity wins out, so you fake your age and create a profile. Quite possibly the first in a long series of adolescent rebellions and lies about your age.

From then on, every action you take and thought you think will be accompanied by a little background decision to be made: “Should I share this on Facebook?” Every sunset, surprise, and sexy face. Yes, you are thirteen years old and deciding which photo you look least ugly in so you can set it as your profile picture. When your parents walk in, you switch to another website or hit enter over and over until your chat history climbs out of view.

Each person you meet must be classified. To friend, or not to friend? Will their life provide enough entertainment? Will this weak tie generate opportunities down the road? Will connecting online make you more likely to connect offline again someday? The decision is not yours alone. It is theirs, but also society’s. The social contract demands courtesy. Accept their friendship, don’t break their heart. Then you’ll spend five seconds every year from then on either deciding not to wish them a happy birthday, or doing so as efficiently as possible.

You grow to become an actor in the success theater. Put on a good show and people will think you’re beautiful and accomplished. Refuse to take the stage and acquaintances will forget about you. Implode in the spotlight and they’ll all think you’re broken or desperate for sympathy. Your real friends will see through the statuses, though, and ask how you’re doing…really.

Eventually, something truly spectacular will happen to you. Rather than share it intimately with those geographically and socially closest to you, you will share some shadow or slideshow of your story with all your friends.

And they will congratulate you. They will like and fawn and comment and cheer and share your moment. And while you haven’t seen most of them in quite some time, their little tokens of appreciation will fill you with pride and joy and gratitude. These clicks can never recreate a hug, but that doesn’t make them worthless. Those resentful of your good fortune will scoff. And though you’ll never know exactly whose blood was boiled by your luck, a smug smirk will consume the corner of your mouth because you showed them, finally.

You’ll one day meet someone so attractive you can hardly wait to escape their presence so you can stalk their every publicly available tidbit of information. You never got their phone number, but with a combination of savvy search parameters you’ll pluck them from the billion-human haystack. You’ll message them something flirty you’d have been too scared to say on the phone and you’ll become “friends.” Before your first date, you’ll know all their favorite bands, the places they’ve travelled, and what their ex looks like. You’ll learn more about them alone than you could in a half-dozen dinners together. You’ll meet up having never heard their voice since that initial encounter. And you’ll fall in love with someone you would have lost but instead you found because you both live a Facebook life.

Your relationship will be condensed into a series of moments. A vacation together, a formal party, an anniversary dinner. No one will know about the fights over work/life balance or the creeping worry they’ll get bored of you, because those don’t make likeable posts. But you’ll send stickers to convey the complex emotions when you’re at a loss for words, and they’ll understand what you mean. You will accumulate a Timeline full of happy memories, and when you scroll through, you remember why you fell so hard in the first place.

You’ll create a secret Facebook event to set everything up. Friends with telephoto lenses stationed halfway across the park, a serendipitous string quartet. You know this moment isn’t just for you two. It’s a public expression that you’ll do anything to make them happy. You get down on one knee and the photos are being uploaded before they can even stop crying to say “yes.” You hold hands as you change your relationship status to “Engaged.”

You will see ads for wedding photographers, for caterers, for florists. You will seek nothing because the intent you’ve revealed and the money in your pocket are enough to make marketers salivate with the thrill of the chase. You will send a “Save The Date” via Facebook but not the invitations because this is special. You won’t change your relationship status to “married” at the altar because that’s tacky, but will do it as soon as you two are alone together. A modern consummation.

You will be anxious because people will share photos from the wedding with the friends you just weren’t close enough with to invite. They will be offended but comment “wow, looks like so much fun” and you will feel awful, but you’ll all get over it.

Soon it will be you posting that you’re expecting. The birth will see you struggle to reconcile experiencing the moment first-hand and documenting it for friends. No matter what anyone tells you, you’ll swear everything your child does is monumental and worth sharing. Your friends will privately loathe this but publicly humor you with “aww cute” and “they’re growing up so fast.”

Then one day your kid will join Facebook and you’ll have to choose if you’re their “friend” or not. You’ll be terrified they’re on there sharing sexed-up selfies and fodder for identity theft. You’ll demand to see their profile and realize they’re just talking about how much homework sucks. It will take you a while to realize that the scandalous stuff now goes down in other apps, not Facebook.

You’ll embarrass your kid by commenting on their posts. When some snot-nosed brat bullies your kid in their statuses, you’ll calmly message their parents telling them to teach their children better netiquette. But you’ll also seek revenge by reporting the little jerk to Facebook, hoping it’ll shut down their account and assassinate their digital existence.

And when you grow old, your family will ask their friends to keep you in their prayers. But when you pass, you won’t disappear. Your profile will become a memorial page, a shrine to the moments of your life that you converted from atoms to bits. And once again, you will have a Facebook presence without a physical one.

Facebook Trades North Of $60 For The First Time

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In after-hours trading today, investors rewarded Facebook with a rising share price after it reported stronger than expected revenue.

The company reported that it earned $0.31 per share, and had revenue in the quarter of $2.59 billion. As reported earlier, the analyst set had predicted that Facebook would earn $0.27 on revenue of $2.33 billion. The earnings beat sent the company’s stock up 5 percent in moments.

Facebook has since risen more than $6 per share, and is still up more than 12 percent in after-hours trading.

The company briefly passed the $60 mark in its post earnings frenzy, though it has since ceded back ground and fallen below the mark. According to Google Finance, before today, Facebook’s 52 week high was $59.31. Given Facebook’s prior ranges outside of that period, we can assert that Facebook traded over the $60 per share threshold in its history.

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Essentially Facebook has never been more richly valued than it is at the moment. Using a non-diluted share count, Facebook’s market capitalization is creeping up on the $150 billion mark.

In another milestone long in the making today, Facebook reported that it now generates the majority of its advertising dollars from mobile. Mobile fears brought the company’s share price down, and mobile strength has brought them back and pushed them higher.

Facebook faces concerns regarding its user base along certain demographic lines, but at least for today, the company can rest easy.