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The new ‘David vs Goliath’

June 28, 2009

Wired has fantastic article about a “Facebook vs Google” saga written in the style of David vs Goliath. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read in recent times (this is the kind of content I’d pay for in a world where everything is free).

While the article does sound a little in favour of the “David”, it’s probably useful (if not important) to remember that in this game, Google is still the veteran, experienced, rugged out soldier of many battles.

Google also, for the lack of a better word or phrase, ‘is the internet’. Someone once said to me, “If Google can’t see you, then you don’t exist”.
RWW brings this point home by grounding any Facebook happy flag bearers about the realities that the social networking site faces today; the pressure to turn red ink into black being one of them (albeit the most important).

Fluffy slogans only work when starting up and pursuing a dream. After a while, only the most notorious self believers can truly sustain a slogan that has yet to reflect any kind of success. Over time, slogans become delusions, and delusions do not pay the bills.

Perhaps one of the most pertinent point is the fact that Facebook’s greatest strength in its service, is also its biggest weakness in terms of revenue generation.

Do not underestimate the role that privacy and security has to play in Facebook’s climb to the top of the social networking hill – stepping over SpamSpace’s face on the way. People who sign up on a social networking service aren’t looking for a thousand lonely strangers to say ‘hi’ to – people want to be known, not stalked. There is a difference to being ‘popular’ and ‘well connected’ to being a C class celebrity.

No one remembers who C class celebrities are…

Until they release a home video. Made for ‘private’ purposes. Yes, ‘release’ and ‘private’ is contradictory in this context, but still you find people who didn’t know better when using that excuse.

Anyway, back to the point.

Privacy and security are the very things that prevents Facebook from extracting the ‘true value’ of its service to advertisers; its database.

With that out of the picture, we turn to the connections developed within the service; the social web. This is the kind of ‘idea’ in which Facebook is trying to get advertisers to buy. It says that a new era of brand communications and engagement has arrived and big businesses have the opportunity to be ‘welcomed by individuals to be a part of their every day lives’.

This sounds great. Well, perhaps it’d sound much better if somewhere deep down big businesses and ‘brand specialists’ didn’t realise that their ability to engage their audience in the social web is also dictated by a user’s disposition towards the importance of their own privacy and security.

In other words, being relevant enough to be connected is an extension of the privacy element. The brand must first overcome this with each and every user.

And then, there is the problem of ‘diminishing returns’ in the context that RWW writes about; how many relevant brands will a user allow on his profile, page or ‘friends’ list before it all becomes irrelevant, unnoticeable and just spam?

Too little, is the right answer.

Perhaps one realisation that hasn’t yet dawned on Facebook evangelists, is the possiblity that the future of its still innexistant business model does not rest on advertising revenue.

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