Analysis, Cool companies

Facebook F8, a big mistake?

Given the glowing reviews F8 is getting, can we pause for a minute and consider that F8 was a pretty big mistake for Facebook? They say that smart people don’t make small mistakes, they make big ones. Consider that Facebook was going to win anyway, so they could have held off for another 12-18 months before they “platformed” their company. They weren’t facing much tough competition, they had a lock on the flexible clean interface, they were simultaneously growing their new user base and deepening the number of connections per user. By opening up, they have taken on a number of risks they didn’t have before:

1) Their site could MySpace-ize pretty quickly, get chaotic and ugly and loose its interface advantage

2) Worse yet, the UI could get so confusing with so random apps being thrown at you and the feed getting too long that users wouldn’t adjust their settings to reduce the chaos, rather they’d just get overwhelmed and stop using Facebook

3) What Facebook IS to people (their brand) could get confused, and it would be picked apart by a swarm of competitors like LinkedIn, MySpace, Yelp and the 10’s of new vertical social networks. Maybe even some clean college networks would spring up to siphon off users.

4) Maybe this would give too much value to their partners, and the resultant energy would dissipate into the wider net rather than accrue to Facebook like it would if they just build the key apps themselves

All are still possible downsides for Facebook, but in the end, after considering these issues, it’s still a very strong move. First, it is energizing and exciting to their young staff, who are working longer hours than any other startup in the Valley. That alone could be worth it. Second, sure they could have waited another 12 months, but this leaves their any competition flat-footed. Third, there is a magic and a power to the distributed mind, in the collective efforts of 10,000’s of smart people. We saw it with Microsoft and you can see it at SecondLife. Now, of course API’s are not nearly as hard as Win32, so Facebook’s defensibility isn’t necessarily the same as Microsoft’s, and I expect other big social networks to get in the platform business over the next 10 months, but by then, Facebook will be well ahead and be down the learning curve on managing this business.

I think they were right to trust their instincts and fall backwards off the stage into the crowd. For instance, already, several of the applications being built by some of the 30,000 platform developers address my four concerns above. Magic and power. Facebook may not have all the answers, but they’re betting 100,000 smart people do, and that’s not a bad bet. My props to the team at Facebook. They are showing themselves the class of the competition, and they are accelerating the evolution of the social Net dramatically by letting 1000’s social application ideas be tested quickly and easily. Everyone in the social Net, including Ooga Labs, now gets to accelerate their thinking.

As a side note, people have asked what Facebook is worth now. I think of it rather like Schroedinger’s cat where the actual state of the cat cannot be known. This is true for Facebook’s valuation because there is no transaction to be had, so the valuation is indeterminate. Given that the management team knows they will create $X billions of value over the next 12 months, and given that they haven’t done it yet, no one can step up and pay something close to what they know they will be worth. And most likely, even if there were such an offer, it would cause the management team’s belief in their prospects to increase. Perhaps justifiably. And since the company isn’t ready to go public (and shouldn’t!), there is not deal to be done, either by a corporate buyer or the public to establish the state of the cat.

Oh, one more thing, small companies to sell to Facebook in the next 6-9 months will do well. RockYou?

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