Thursday, January 6, 2011

Full circle

Back in the 1980’s, my sisters referred to me as a “modem monster,” because I would be up late at night on my Commodore 64, connecting to bulletin boards via a 300 baud* modem. This would be no cause for concern today, because they could just use their mobile phones. But back then, it was a major hassle, because we had a single landline for the entire household of nine people. Which is why I did it late at night.

*If you understood what I just said, you dated yourself. And you are a nerd.

Bulletin boards were this way geeky thing computer nerds used to talk to each other without really having to talk to each other. I think the one I liked was run by someone who called himself “Bill the cat.” They allowed multiple nerds to congregate in one place and share inane facts about their lives via computer. (This may sound familiar.)

Then along came the worldwide web and killed all the bulletin boards.

Then along came Mark Zuckerberg, who stole an idea from his college friends that those college friends stole from old computer nerds: a bulletin board. Except they called it Facebook. And Facebook promptly killed the worldwide web.

Advertisers like Facebook because Facebook knows everything about its users, so whenever you look at an ad, they know who looked and lots of demographic details about the looker. They pay a premium for that shit. Goldman Sachs just paid a premium for a piece of the Facebook action because advertisers are willing to pay a premium to get in on it. And Goldman will still make money on the deal.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is great for keeping tabs on friends you couldn’t otherwise be bothered to spend time with. It’s a stalker’s dream come true. It would be easier to navigate if the posts were organized by topic. But then again, the only two real topics are: “feel sorry for me because my life sucks;" or "be jealous of me because my life is better than yours."


  1. Nothing excites me more than the smell of bitterly jealous computer nerds. I hope you have finally boxed up your Seven of Nine figurines.....

  2. Bob, you're right, this is definitely of the "feel sorry for me because my life sucks variety." Except that my life doesn't suck. Though I'll admit it would suck even less if my closely held company were valued at $62B.

    That said, I'm not a true nerd despite my nerdly tendencies in my youth. Because I don't even know what Seven of Nine is.

  3. Your more of an Ellen Ripley guy..... I'm a nerd and I'm proud of it, sort of.

    Face Book is a tool, that most people use incorrectly and therefore end up looking like tools.....

    Kinda like blogs.....

    and comment sections......

  4. Yeah, so I had to google Ellen Ripley, too.

    Facebook has been amazingly successful, but unlike Microsoft, it's not installed on your hardware. Google and Apple have done a great job prying share away from MSFT, despite the uphill battle. Toppling Facebook won't be nearly so difficult--someone smarter than me just needs to execute on a better idea.

  5. Yes I recall the BB days with the family C-64. Dated, check. Nerd, check.

    I disagree that Facebook killed the WWW. It could happen that everything moves to Facebook, but I doubt it. At the very least the WWW is not dead now. One analyst opined that the social web is a fad that will peak in 2011 and start to decline.

    That's a rather dark view of Facebook. I'm not a big FB fan, and I see plenty of that behavior, but I've hidden all the whiners, braggarts and too-frequent-status-updaters so what's left is a fairly interesting stream of news. It's just a tool.

  6. Hyperbole, Kris. Regarding FB killing the WWW (it hasn't, and what kills FB will come from the WWW) and about FB in general. Just pointing out that it's a new twist on an old idea. Like you said, it's a tool. Advertisers view it as such, and it's likely to be very successful if users are able to use it as such. If they're not, they'll move on. What they move on to will be exciting to watch.

  7. For a business owner, social media is the greatest! Amazingly free advertising. Or you can pay to advertise on it. Either way it gets to the masses.

    You may find this video interesting.

  8. I have nothing of value to add here. I just wanted to point out that I actually included Seven of Nine in one of my Awesome Graphics over a year ago.

    (I guess this falls in the bragging-about-my-life category. Or at least about my graphics.)

  9. I love FB. I get paid to love it, but still... It's a great tool. It's like a blog, but with a guaranteed audience, assuming you have friends. But it's also the best form of word of mouth advertising and reviews to come about on the web. It's better than forums (which are dying) because it's mostly troll free, and consists of people you know. Sort of. But it's not anonymous. And so people tend to be more helpful, more civil, more honest.

    I'm curious where the social web will be in 2-3 years. I think location based stuff will die out (hopefully... I DON"T care that you are at the Home Depot in America Fork) and I'm sure there will be some level of burnout. But overall, it's here to stay. And I think will, or has already, changed the WWW fundamentally.

    And I think for the better.

    @Jason, I used that video in a training I did at work.

  10. Adam, don't get me wrong, I think it's useful for advertisers because, like you said, you have a guaranteed audience. The other thing that it's great for as an advertiser, is that if someone "likes" you, you get to continue to message that person repeatedly rather than having to lure them back to your website or send them email.

    But like you say, it will be interesting to see where it is in a few years. As more advertisers get wise to it, will "social" users get turned off by the amount of ad content? Will people find it more valuable as a source of information or deals? Will something else come along that does these things and does them better (I seem to recall something called MySpace that was huge and was only supposed to get bigger)?

    Bottom line, though, is that the thing that makes Facebook valuable is network externalities. If it didn't have 500 million users and growing, it wouldn't be what it is. To maintain its value, it has to keep them. Whether they can do that or not will be interesting to watch.

  11. When FB won the grandmothers over, it won the war. Whether or not it can keep its place at the top is another question.

  12. Oh, and speaking of The Economist (well, Mark and I were IRL) and Facebook: Right on Que

  13. Adam, interesting issues being raised by Goldman's investment fund. Wasn't aware of that. To your point about the Grandmothers, that could actually be the tipping point that pushes Facebook the other way. I know of more than one person who has stopped using Facebook or using it in a particular way because their mothers were on there. Facebook allows people to filter their audience, which alleviates some of these concerns. But if someone provides a good alternative that moms are slow to move to, the barriers to exit as a Facebook user are very low, as are the barriers to entry for providing a competing service.

    I imagine Goldman, among others, are going to become very rich (or more rich) from Facebook. But it will not be because they didn't take any risk.