I sat down with my writing Professor today. He’s a great guy, worked at Newsweek for many years. Our talk eventually turned to Facebook. I was shocked to hear that he first joined about 3 years ago… and LOVED it.
My prof spoke about how easy it was to use and how fun it was connecting and reconnecting with people. However, he deleted his account about 6 months ago. When I asked him why, all he said was, “too much crap!”
The Facebook experience is too crowded. Yes, I still check it daily, but that is only because I want to see if friends have contacted me (yes, FB still has potent network effects). However, I never post anymore. The reason is because spending time on the service is becoming rather obnoxious. I am constantly getting notifications for things I do not care about. Most of my newsfeed is stuff I simply do not wish to read.
Twitter and Prismatic. Those deliver great content directly to me. It’s all curated. Facebook is a mess.
Joel Spolsky reassured me.
As a student very interested in technical entrepreneurship, most of what I read about are the companies getting tons of press. These “hot” companies are the ones most people know. This isn’t unreasonable, as it makes sense that Facebook appears on TechCrunch more often than KissMetrics. However, as I want to work for a startup (and perhaps one day found my own) this is very intimidating. There can only be so many billion dollar ideas, and the smaller successes tend to get lost in the clutter of Silicon Valley reporting/analysis.
There is a sense that the only successes an entrepreneur can have is to build an enormous company (billions of dollars of value), or sell your smaller company to one of those larger firms. Joel Spolsky directly addressed this apprehension of mine.
In relating the details of his two major entrepreneurial endeavors (Fog Creek and Stack Exchange), Joel spoke about how there IS still opportunity for small bootstrapped businesses to find success. Specifically, he encourages entrepreneurs to figure out the market for your company EARLY.
1) The “Land Grab” Scenario: Get Big Fast
- Network Effects- The more users you have, the more valuable the network is. Think Facebook, its value lies in the # of users. I want to be on Facebook because everyone I know is on Facebook.
- Scale Quickly- Network Effects create Lock In. No one is going to leave Facebook for a social network that is 50% or even 100% better, as all of their friends are already on Facebook. That value cannot be as easily replicated as product features.
- Make lots of Mistakes- Iterate quickly. Move fast and learn as you go. Mistakes can be covered up through VC money that you raise externally. Mistakes won’t cost customers like in bootstrapped business.
- Take VC Money- Don’t fret about profitability from the start. Instead, focus on growth.
- For Joel, Stack Exchange is an example of this type of scenario (well built question and answer sites). Network Effects are HUGE in this space.
2) The “Organic Growth” Model: Grow Slowly With Paying Customers
- Bootstrap- Live very cheaply. Build a product that you can begin to sell immediately. Reinvest everything in company.
- Market Fit- Unlike “Land Grab,” where there is probably an open market, the marketplace is going to be crowded with competitors in an Org Growth model.
- Don’t Make Mistakes- You need to retain paying customers to survive! Mistakes can KILL your business.
- Growth- Slow and steady. You are trying to steal customers, one by one, from your competitors. You must be in it for the long hall.
- End Goal- It isn’t to sell the company or be acquired. It is to build a long term, sustainable business.
- For Joel, Fog Creek Software took an Organic Growth model.
This was my take on his speech, and it really put me at ease. There is still hope for entrepreneurs who just want to build a viable business; companies don’t need 25 Million users to be successful.
You can watch Joel’s speech here.
Just wanted to quickly share how thrilled and enthused I am by APP.net’s funding!!! I truly believe this is just the beginning. Premium consumer internet services should not be ad-supported. Simply put, having an ad-supported product misaligns the motivations of the company and the desires of their users. The reason? Because the company’s clients become advertisers, NOT USERS. When users are the client, NOT THE PRODUCT, user experience becomes the top priority. And in consumer Internet, that’s the way it should be.
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I miss my Facebook wall. Timeline is a fascinating and impressive function. I like having two profile pictures, especially the huge new one (the more of me, the better!). But, what problems does Timeline really solve? I liked having one centralized place where people could write on my profile. That still exists, but it is convoluted and doesn’t load instantly as I scroll down my FB. Searching for past posts is difficult, and I liked having a clean interface between different sections of content on my profile.
Timeline is well built (the timeline function anyway), a cool concept, and I believe it would make an outstanding additional function to a user profile.
However, no one I speak to uses Timeline for it’s actual purpose….looking at their friends historical Facebook presence. People only use timeline as an augmented wall (or as a stalker tool), and rarely scroll downward past the first section. I would wager a bet that posting and interaction between users is down since the introduction of Timeline, as Timeline’s build simply does not user promote interaction like the wall.
The recording of history is an important aspect of Facebook. But, despite the fact that “Twitter is where news breaks; Facebook is where news goes,” (John Herman-Buzzfeed), it can’t be ignored that Facebook is still a marvelous tool for social interaction, and that should be where the emphasis of the service lies.
Bottom line: I don’t care nearly as much about my online past as I do about the present. Timeline makes my online life harder, not easier. More work for me as the user=worse product. Doesn’t matter how cool of a feature it is.
P.S. My birthday was last week, and timeline combined all of the birthday posts I received into one small timeline box. Maybe I am more insecure than most, but I LOVED having my Facebook wall plastered in birthday messages. It felt good. It was a fun way to show off online (what we all want from Facebook anyway) without putting in any effort. Having my congratulatory messages minimized and shunned to preserve a balanced timeline sucks, and does not play to what I as a user want my Facebook presence to be.
John Herman Article Link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/how-twitter-beat-facebook-at-its-own-story
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