I spend a lot of time on Facebook, for work and for fun. I also spend a lot of time playing with applications and other services that either live on Facebook or have a strong connection back to the service via Facebook Connect. Of late, I have noticed that there are a few services that I really do believe would work better if they were fully integrated (as in owned and controlled) by Facebook as opposed to the current level of integration offered.
In thinking about how to determine which services might fit the screen, I tried to come up with 4 criteria that make sense to me:
1. The product or service must already have scale and relevance (this is arbitrary – use the sniff test as to whether or not the product or service has enough usage or traction to be reasonably well known or generate meaningful revenue)
2. The output of the product or service is designed to be consumed in a social context (it’s designed to spark feedback, conversation, debate, or some other social interaction)
3. The nature of the service has real returns to social distribution (it’s in a business where word-of-mouth, friend referrals, or other low-cost / low friction distribution can generate real economic benefit to the service)
4. The same advantages associated with deeper integration / acquisition could not or have not been achieved by arms length business development deals
Facebook has already shown an ability to take homegrown products that fall into point #2 above, namely photo and video, and build a very strong position in each category. It would be interesting to see if the same could be achieved with the services below:
I use Yelp a lot and think the service is great. While Yelp does support publishing reviews to Facebook and Twitter, I do think that having Yelp as an actual service offering from Facebook would be way more interesting. If I were Yelp, I’d be wary of doing too much deep integration with Facebook – Yelp has its own social network of people who love to review things and a corpus of reviews built up over the past few years. If that’s not the company’s most valuable asset, it certainly is one of their top competitive advantages in the space. While Yelp could have a larger user base by having a larger presence on Facebook (via an app or something), I think of Yelp as a vertical social network + a review site. It’s instructive to me that two of the largest vertical social networks, LinkedIn and Yelp, both have minimal footprints on the Facebook platform. I think the executives at both companies have managed to gain traction on the web and rightly worried about what a stronger Facebook presence (and all of the associated issues around customer ownership, platform rules, growing the core web property, etc) would mean for their overall business.
With all of that said, I’ve noticed some trends in the way my friends use Facebook that leads me to believe that there is some pent-up demand for an easy-to-use review product. As always, this is just anecdotal info:
1. My friends already use their status updates to complain or praise service experiences they have in real life; These are micro reviews delivered via status updates
2. People already use Facebook and their status updates as a social Q&A service without tools to support it; I see lots of my friends asking for recommendations for restaurants, bars, dentists, movers, etc via Facebook status updates. And I also see people reply.
3. Reviews are a social product – good reviews inspire violent agreement or debate
I can see two real advantages to a tie-up between the two companies:
1. Provided their experience about how to roll out additional metros would support it, access to the full universe of Facebook’s users would allow them to add more geographies, cities, and countries more quickly. I’m not 100% sure that Yelp’s model is one where simply putting it in front of a larger traffic firehose would mean the service would grow more quickly. I bet there is some secret sauce in how you build momentum in a new place to get the density of reviews required to have good coverage. That being said, I bet access to Facebook’s global community and the ability to be more “baked in” to the Facebook experience would help the service grow.
2. Adding user reviews would give Facebook an additional touch point with local advertisers, many of whom are the target for their self-service ad product. If user reviews begin to show up in large numbers on Facebook, I believe local advertisers whose services are being reviewed (positively or negatively) will want to advertise to be part of the conversation and to influence people who are looking to make decisions or choose vendors. Reviews would potentially give more advertisers a reason to care about what people are saying on Facebook as well as some proof points / evidence about how users view their brand / service offering.
The biggest challenge, though, would be continuing to navigate the tightrope that comes from being in both the editorial reviews and local advertising business at the same time. This is always hard to navigate – on the one hand you have advertisers paying you for promotion and visibility while on the other hand you have reasonably unfiltered feedback from users. That’s a delicate dance and having Yelp as part of Facebook would not resolve this concern.
I have to admit that I’m a bit of an Eventbrite fanboy. I use their ticketing and registration system for all of my events. That being said, it’s kind of frustrating to me that while Facebook drives a ton of traffic and visibility for events (and even some ticket sales), the event integration is not that smooth. While you can publish an Eventbrite event to Facebook, you still have to drive people back to Eventbrite and out of Facebook to complete the transaction. It’s not a good experience for me as an organizer or for attendees.
There are 3 reasons why I think a tighter tie-up between the two services might work better:
1. The current Facebook Events product does not work well for events that want to charge money for attendance. There’s no way to have someone complete the purchase experience from within a Facebook event. There’s also no easy way to link an existing event to a Facebook Fan Page. The events product feels like something that was built to help people organize free, largely social events. I see more and more people trying to use Facebook for professional or cause-oriented events where there is a financial transaction as part of the deal. Events, conferences, and professional meetings are a large global business – Facebook could make a bigger splash here than they have thus far.
2. Events are, by their very nature, social – tapping into social distribution helps get the word out to more people. Most events are about getting people together to socialize, learn, be entertained, or otherwise get some value out of being in the same place at the same time. Events are one of the most social things on the web – making it easier for event organizers to find attendees and for those attendees to share interesting events with their friends and colleagues would be a natural fit.
3. Event organizers are looking for tools that will allow them to keep in touch with attendees. No event organizer wants to continue to re-acquire past attendees every time they organize and want to promote a new event. Facebook Fan pages are a pretty good focal point for keeping track of Facebook users who attend your events. If I, as an event organizer, could close the loop with attendees on Facebook, that would lead me to invest even more in developing a stronger presence on Facebook.
Overall, many of the things above could be accomplished by a BD deal where Facebook lets Eventbrite hook into Facebook’s Events API and somehow enable payment. It can’t be technically difficult. While it strikes me as doable, it hasn’t been done yet. Perhaps Facebook would be more motivated to do something like this if they were participating in the underlying economics of tickets sold.
With the 4 criteria I mentioned above, there are a handful of services that are on the bubble:
WordPress / Posterous / Tumblr – I believe that people write to be read. The output from these blogging and micro-blogging services is very social; it’s published to share thoughts and to hopefully elicit a response. However, I think all of these services could achieve most of the benefits of deeper Facebook integration by simply making “Post to Facebook” a default option for all users. Being part of Facebook would probably help all of these services grow, but it’s not clear what Facebook would get out of the deal. I don’t find the Notes feature terribly compelling – I wonder if Facebook users do want the ability to post long-to-medium form thoughts that don’t make sense delivered in status messages. I’ve seen an increasing amount of my limited blog traffic being driven by Twitter and Facebook, suggesting that social distribution does increase readership and engagement.
Meebo – I think Meebo is a great service. They, like Yelp and LinkedIn, have their own proprietary social graph about who talks to whom, how often, and for how long. I happen to think that Meebo is far more valuable to someone who does not have access to their own social graph (like a major media company) than one that does. Facebook has their own IM product anyway. I’m not sure how widely used it is, but its mere existence creates an obstacle to a deeper tie-up between the companies.
Digg – With more content being published into Facebook by bloggers and post-happy nerds like me, Facebook (and Twitter for that matter) are getting more and more insight into what pieces of content are being shared, redistributed, generating comments, and stirring debate. At some point I imagine that Facebook would believe they have a reasonable approximation for articles, posts, and news that’s moving quickly through the Facebook community and the various sub-communities on Facebook.
Music – I don’t believe Facebook needs to dabble in music. Music is social, but I have less in common with my friends’ musical taste than just about any other form of media we consume jointly. I could be persuaded otherwise, though.
Thanks for reading my long post! You can always follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/chudson to keep up with my musings.