Hey Facebook, Can You Please Make The News Feed This Easy To Customize?

The noise!  Ah, the noise!

Part of what is so frustrating about Facebook is how annoying and noisy the news feed can be.  I can only deal with so many baby pictures and silly posts and or how little Joey just couldn’t go to bed tonight.  Or random pictures of people I don’t know…  Somewhere, deep down somewhere in Facebook there are thoughtful posts and pictures from friends I actually want to hear from.

So I am asking Facebook to help us help ourselves to use Facebook more by giving us full control of the news feed.  I want to customize it as I wish based on characteristics of both my friends and type of posts.  I am sure they would appreciate us using Facebook more, but the number 1 complaint I hear from people is it’s just not relevant anymore.

Imagine being able to simply slide a bar to tune out those annoying over-sharers without doing the awkward unfriending or having to hide them.  What about wanting to see more posts (and pictures) of women?  Or men?  What if you could organize it more positive updates rather than see people vent and rant (which by the way doesn’t make my day any better when I read those).

My vision of it is below.  Share on Facebook and Twitter if you agree and maybe we can help make this happen sooner than later.

new feed sliders

General Zuckerberg’s Last Stand

Is it me or is there a growing concern about Facebook’s murky future?  Oh wait it’s not just me.   To make matters worse, current employees now seeing their net worth drop each day, are blatantly being encouraged to stay the course by both their boss and the media.  Facebook’s mounting challenge seems to be worrying a lot of people lately, and the more I read the more I see everybody has their own opinion.

Well FWIW, here is mine.

As Facebook’s General, Mark Zuckerberg famously said:  “we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.”

Mark would do Facebook Nation a solid by finally acknowledging ads annoy people and are not a “service” to users.  Ads might have worked as Band-Aid revenue generation during infancy and adolescence, but now they are proving insufficient as the company matures and struggles in it’s transition to mobile.

First, I have a bone to pick with advertising and why it should not be the future of Facebook.  The main problem with advertising is not rooted in inadequate technology; it’s rooted in the fact that it doesn’t actually add value to you or me.  Ads are meant to interrupt our natural pattern of thought in an effort to imprint a commercial message on the neurons of our brain.  An imprint that, in fact, I wasn’t wanting or I would have sought it out first.

Simply put, ads are an annoyance of life.  Ads are peddling at its purest form and humans have an inherent distaste for peddlers because the act reeks of desperation.  Innovating around ads won’t help either.   Trying to squeeze as many ads as you can in front of people, even deceivingly placing a friends picture on the ad to trick the user for a measly click won’t change the fact that ads suck.  And it doesn’t matter if we can develop a quasi-cool concept like “Pre-Ads” similar to the “Pre-Crime” concept in Minority Report, it will still be a net negative on our society.

(On a side note, propositioning people to buy things they may not be able to afford could be why our country finds itself in the precarious situation we are in today.  But I digress…)

Yet I am no Pollyanna, suggesting Facebook immediately turn off advertising entirely since this is the main revenue source, but they need to find a new self, and quickly.  Mobile is becoming the primary means of access for a growing number of users and Facebook is in desperate need of a long-term solution if it’s going to be a viable business.

So with that behind us, I sure hope Facebook can turn their attention towards more fruitful business models.

My answer: Add value to the consumer, not the advertiser.  Because Mark, I’m afraid under your leadership the servant is quickly becoming the master.

Adding Value To Users
So what does “add value to the consumer” actually mean?  Adding value means making what I do each day, as a consumer, easier and more pleasant to complete.  The success of any product or service lies is the richness of value it creates for me, as a consumer.  Early on (and arguably still true today) Facebook added much value to life by connecting us with our friends.  And that was all nice and neat back in the day before social networking became commoditized.  It’s become clear Facebook needs to stand up, rediscover, redefine, and re-institute a business model around the value it creates in its users lives.

So rather than ads – which I will continue to dodge and evade like the plague – why not focus on commerce, payments, purchases and creating value with the resulting data?  Why not, since Facebook already has my identity and interests all figured out, make my life as a consumer easier and more efficient rather than further interrupted?  I would appreciate things like saving me time, saving me money, helping me understand more about myself and my purchasing habits and then aid me in putting that information to work?  Help me identify where I buy things and why?  And maybe identify what brands I am attracted to and which ones I stay away from?

Further, Facebook could then quickly assist me in accessing specific brands I respect and usher in repeated interactions/purchases for me.  These are the things that matter to us as consumers.  These things help us better manage our lives.  And believe me, I would use Facebook more if it added more value to my life.

Again, we hate ads… but we like buying stuff!   A subtle but HUGE difference lies between those two concepts and if Facebook can dig deep enough into why there’s a difference they will discover the answer is found within the delta.

General Zuckerberg needs to plot a game plan for Facebook that is not only a sustainable but growing future as a business.  A number of business models – outside of the traditional “lead generation” advertising we’ve come to despise – are possible.  Here’s just a few focused on adding value to the everyday consumer.

The world is rapidly going mobile and an incredible opportunity is looking Facebook right in the face.  They have almost one billion identities of people around the world.  Amazingly, these Facebook users are also consumers who pay for things. And I bet if you polled a large enough subset of them about their online/mobile purchasing experience they would tell you much is to be desired.  I often wonder why we need to plug in the same damn information (name, phone number, card number, email address, physical address, phone number, billing address, first born, mothers maiden name, etc.) again, again, and again, again and again… and again, just to buy something on a website with Facebook connect sitting right there!?  I bet Facebook already knows that information about me…

This “revelation” is not lost on Facebook and they have already been dabbling in the digital payment experience over the last few years.  But something seems amiss.  Recently stated quarterly numbers show payments flattening due to people rapidly shifting to using the site from mobile alone, or at least spending a lot more of their time on mobile than desktop where it shows more ads.  Ah, there’s that damn mobile device again!

So with the Zyngapocalypse upon us, most are wondering what comes next.  My view focuses on tying a mobile experience into our consumer experiences, namely real world payments and transactions.  It all comes back to consumer ID and expediting the payment experience.  Yes, I am talking about the same trillion-dollar market Square, PayPal, LevelUp and many others including my company Seconds are aiming to re-create.  Using the device we carry with us all hours of the day – the very same device we are always logged in as a Facebook user – these emerging business are actually adding value by solving a problem and making life more efficient.  More importantly, they figured out a way to make money while not annoying us!

Donations and Giving
A mobile payment doesn’t just mean buying a latte with my phone.  Donations, giving and social gifting are another potential home run for Facebook payments, since these are transactions people want to talk about and share with friends.  Donations are unique in the fact that the desired outcome is to influence others to join us and make a similar purchase.

So how big is this opportunity? Charitable giving is a $300 billion market, and Facebook would be wise to understand greater than 2/3 of that total – more than $200 billion per year – was given by individuals or household donors.  In fact, gifts from individuals represented 73 percent of all contributed dollars.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had a quick and easy account from which to give to our favorite charity without having to plug in those damn credit card numbers or be required to mail a check that we don’t have, (kinda like a pay button?)

It will be interesting to see what they do with Karma, the social gifting business they purchased the day of their IPO.  Social gifting and quick mobile based donations present a very promising opportunity and the Karma acquisition could be a beachhead to the milestones Peter Volgel predicted, where Facebook’s revenue from payments will double every year for the next five years.

Social Commerce
Finally, a low hanging fruit example for Facebook is the often propagated but yet to be commercialized social commerce concept.  If you think about it, it seems as if we are still in the stone age of social commerce, and have been for years now.  Facebook has been around for almost a decade and before that we had Friendster and Myspace.  What most don’t realize is how close we actually are to merging social and commercial actions, by simply talking about products and purchases with our friends.

How many times have you read a Facebook update from a friend, for instance, saying something like “I just saw ____ and it was the best movie I’ve ever seen.  Or what about the posts that show off a new car or recently purchased clothing?  Those posts, in a small way, are the beginnings of social commerce.

I discovered one startup in particular, Note Social, seeming to be gravitating towards all the ideas of value I bring forth above and from the looks of it they are just about to launch their solution.

Social commerce will usher in a totally new shopping experience, by sharing things such as a new purchase or a cool new movie you are influencing your friends’ commercial interests, which can quickly turn into another purchase.

Commerce taking place on and off Facebook, utilizing the social graph they built over the last 8 years, could be another huge business for them.  Imagine if they charged a 20 or 30% fee on any purchases within the platform?  With a half a billion daily people interacting on the site each day, that’s quite a bit of potential revenue just from social commerce relationships.

So Facebook and General Zuckerberg now stand at a crossroads.  Looking left, they hang onto advertising and hope people can deal with more unwanted interruptions on a smaller screen, leading to Facebook’s demise.  Looking right, they peer down a road full of potentially new and innovative social commerce businesses, ones which actually add value to users and possibly a brighter future.

It’s your move General.

Speaking Of Crappy Facebook Ads, I Hope They Can Do Better Than This

Seriously, is this what Facebook thinks is going to increase their advertising revenue?  Is this what they were pitching on Wall Street as they were preparing investors during their IPO road show?

“Hey, yea we have ads.  They’re really effective!  This is what we show our users.”  {look to right}

You may or may not use Facebook very much.  I really don’t compared to Twitter and Linkedn.  You may or may not glance over to the side to look at the Ads on the right side of the page.  For once, I did both of those just now and look what they are showing me.

Amazing huh, I wonder what would happen if I actually did click on one of those… maybe a new girlfriend?  Thanks Facebook!

With all this talk of the market pulling away from the now public social network and Facebook shares falling to new lows each week, I wonder when they will figure it out?

Because of their massive user base (almost a billion people) and what comes with it (massive page views) they generated roughly $4 billion of revenue last year.  But with ads like this I suggest there really isn’t much innovation going on in the business front.  Is this what the smartest engineers in Silicon Valley are doing with their talent?

Their future on the mobile device posses other challenges, mainly in the fact that it’s harder to get all those hook up, singles and boyfriend needed ads onto my small screen.  (OK, to be fair there is a save the world from poverty ad on there so all is not lost).

Good luck Facebook, you’re gonna need it.  And hey Mark, if the marriage doesn’t turn out I don’t think you’ll have a problem finding another girl. {look to right}

How Facebook Will Conquer Your Real World Identity

When Facebook released their S-1 announcing their intent to go public, Mark Zuckerberg left no doubt in anyone’s mind they have taken over our digital world.  According to Hitwise, Facebook now accounts for 1 in every 5 pageviews on the web (in the U.S.). It’s crazy to think Facebook wasn’t visionary in the revolutionary sense of the word, they just recognized the world needed a real directory of people, not merely another site to attract users. And indeed, they nailed it. The goal of making its social graph portable and fundamental to the fabric of the Web – and your virtual identity – has certainly been realized.

But can Facebook extend its reach outside the wired world and into your real world? Actually, I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. Maybe the better question is “HOW will Facebook extend its reach into your real world?”

It would seem they are on a tear and the facts are staggering. Hitwise found Facebook.com is now seeing one out of every eleven of their visits coming from the U.S., and 1/5 of all pageviews online in the U.S. takes place on Facebook.com. Their monthly actives grew 21% over the past four months. They are now seeing about 850 million users each month, with half accessing on their mobile device. In 2011, they earned almost $4 billion in revenue and of that, exactly $1 billion was profit. In the S-1 filing, Zuckerberg even goes to the lengths of declaring their intent to fundamentally rewire the way the world works, from interpersonal interactions to commerce to even government.

Facebook’s current revenue is driven mostly by advertising, and analysts are postulating about what exactly led Facebook to IPO.  Maybe it’s a desire to steer where advertising is going, to hopefully make it more personal and relevant for consumers.  But make no mistake, Facebook is already one of the most valuable companies on the planet because of the information they gather.   Age, gender, current city, hometown, employers, education, friends, interests, and now in-app activity and commerce habits are all reasons Facebook is worth an estimated $100 billion.

Yet advertising might not always be their bread and butter since it can only take you so far (just look at what other businesses Google is trying to create) and diversification is the name of the game if you want to protect your longterm business.

This brings us to a natural progression in the digital ecosystem – from advertising to payments. Within the S-1 they revealed their virtual Payments business is already bringing in $557 million in revenue per year. From the filing, Facebook writes that “we may seek to extend the use of Payments to other types of apps in the future.” Although not specific about these other apps, one could think they could include anything that somehow integrates with Facebook.

So it would seem Facebook is on pace to take over the world….. except one big side note, the mobile device. Analysts and the media are already pointing out Facebook has discovered their Kryptonite, which would be the fact that even though almost half of all their users are accessing Facebook from their mobile device, they are generating almost zero revenue from mobile usage.

Facebook risks being left behind as the world turns more of their attention to their mobile devices. Also found in the S-1, Facebook goes to great lengths to admit they have no current way to monetize mobile “We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products. Accordingly, if users continue to increasingly access Facebook mobile products as a substitute for access through personal computers…our revenue and financial results may be negatively affected.”

So while Facebook sees mobile as critical to its future growth, the growing number of people accessing the social network via mobile devices (again, 450 million!) could negatively impact its advertising revenue unless it is able to begin monetizing its mobile usage.

This should not be taken lightly, as anyone in the industry knows mobile is growing at a rapid pace and it’s only going to accelerate. Techcrunch cofounder and guest author Keith Teare, who is General Partner at his incubator Archimedes Labs and CEO of newly funded just.me, eloquently puts it:

The reason this risk factor jumps out of the page – for me – is that this trend to growing mobile use is inevitable. What is more, it will be both rapid and enormous. How do we know this? Well, human beings are flocking to mobile platforms in droves. This is happening to such an extent that Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker went on the record almost 1 year ago to say that we are now in the 5th major technology cycle of the past half century (mainframe; mini-computer; desktop; internet and now mobile) and that mobile traffic will “grow 26 times over the next 5 years”

Mobile is The Final Frontier to Our Real Life Identity

It has been determined the most valuable network in the digital world is all your personal connections, collected and put together to form the social graph.  Expansive and data rich, this network connects you and me in a way we never would have been able to do before Facebook hit our screens.

But offline, this is not the case since transactions are the fullest expression of commercial interaction. Offline, the most valuable network is comprised of all the loose connections of merchant/customer relationships around the world, all together representing the GDP.  Broken down to each individual, possibly named the commercial graph, one can start to see patterns and degrees of separation forming.

The mobile device is the most direct and personal connection between our digital world to our physical world. We carry them with us all the time and feel naked if we leave them at home. Their use history is a picture perfect snapshot of who we are, made complete with our media and content preferences in addition to our personal calling and messaging history. Your cell phone contact history is, quite frankly, your true and actual real world social network. The location information (what is seen and not seen by the public) draws a direct path of your everyday footsteps. Like it or not, your mobile device is the crystal ball into your existence – a pure blend of your virtual and physical self.

Yet, Facebook has not figured out how to crack that crystal ball. Yes you can access Facebook proper via your mobile device… but it is still within their digital walls. I am curious as to when Facebook’s tenticals will reach outside those walls and into our physical world. And more interestingly, if not Facebook… then who else will it be?

We Express Relationships With Businesses Via Transactions

In the physical world, the truest expression of our commercial relationship with a businesses is through transaction.  If I like a product, I don’t push a button on the shelf right by where its sitting, I buy it.  If I am attracted to a city and want to stay at a nice hotel, I book the room.  Wouldn’t it be great to directly connect with merchants we care about in our life to make those interactions and transactions much easier?  Wouldn’t it be great if it operated similar to what we have become accustomed to in out digital social worlds?  Unfortunately, we cannot indicate a preferred long term relationship with a merchant, both interactional and transactional, driven through our mobile devices (Not yet that is).

With more than 8 trillion text messages sent last year around the world, and the U.S. alone seeing more than a fourth of those messages, messaging is the most predominant use for our mobile device. Research suggests messaging is still growing and arguably this won’t change for the foreseeable future. What if texting wasn’t just meant for communication, but also designed for transaction? It has been estimated that worldwide mobile payments (m-payments) will be over US$1 trillion by 2015. That is one BIG market if I have ever seen one.  And a market any serious digital media company should be focused on.

So if mobile is only going to be more important as time goes on, if our real world identities are tied to our mobile device and if transactions are the most valuable market in the world, it would make sense the next war for supremacy lies right where those three battlefields intersect.

Anyone want to suggest what Facebook has in store in the coming years to deliver returns for their shareholders? If their goal really is to fundamentally rewire the way the world works, from interpersonal interactions to commerce to even government, they need to do more than just show us ads in our news feed.

The advantages to going public at $100 billion is everyone who was a shareholder “before” the IPO will make a nice return on their investments – both time and money. The downfall of going public valued at $100 billion is that for anyone who is a shareholder “after” the IPO is going to need to see that valuation increase drastically to achieve a positive return. How is Facebook going to do that? The multi-trillion dollar worldwide market of physical world payments is probably Facebook’s best bet at making those returns come true.

Your virtual identity is arguably still up for grabs but at this point the front runner is Facebook with almost 1 billion users worldwide. The question is who will own your real world identity?

Even more interesting is wondering if we can fight for our real world identity or will we succumb to the greatest virtual social network on earth overtaking our physical world as well?

One Big Problem: The Worlds #1 Search Engine Is Not The Worlds #1 Social Network

Google just made a big, bold move and integrated Google+ profiles into their search results.  Yesterday, Google launches Personal Results,Profiles in Search, and People and Pages, new features of its core search product that mark the real beginning of Google’s social search era.

It looks something like this:

The big problem with this is that Google, the worlds best place to search and find information, is assuming my Google+ profile is the most relevant social profile about me and so it should be surfaced first.  Well, I will tell you this:  It’s not.   I rarely (if ever) update Google+ with links, updates and information.   LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are better representations of me and my interests.

Sorry Google.  You are not my default social identity.

When Google+ launched months ago there was a strong reaction around the fact that we don’t need another social profile to keep updated.  There are already too many and this fact still remains true today.  Interestingly, I have seen less Google+ requests lately than I did last fall.

I bet this is the same for millions of other people.  I bet more people keep Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn updated and informed than their Google+ profile.

Am I correct?


Employees Want More Recognition Over More Money. Here’s How With Facebook

I think we we can all admit: corporate life can be at times, just plain boring.  That might be the main reason a large number of employees tend to meander over to social sites such as Facebook or Twitter to see what is going on outside the firewall.

But are social technologies really a distraction?  Or can they be used to actually enhance the morale and engagement of the workforce?

The Taraci Social MediaMgr™, from Taraci Motivation, is an incentive marketing application that allows organizations to host and run employee incentive marketing programs entirely through Facebook.  It allows an organization to integrate the social and communications tools of Facebook into traditional incentive marketing programs.  Their vision is to transform how organizations run incentive programs by helping them fully integrate the power of social media.

“According to Gallop , about 10% of employees are highly engaged and since profitability is tied to employee attitude and moral, it’s more important than ever to motivate employees,” says Tom Taraci.

Basically, they help corporations leverage Facebook to offer employee incentives to keep them happy.

Well, if you can’t beat em, join em!

It’s an intelligent move, leveraging Facebook to get more from your work force rather than just firewall it.  The underlying message sent to employees when blocking a site like Facebook is one of distrust.  Using Taraci Social MediaMgr let’s your employees know “you get it” and “you understand.”

For example, the ‘like’ feature can be used to show friends and family a product users like within the catalog. Opinions can be posted to the wall. Participants can also ‘send’ messages to friends, family and co-workers to get feedback on their product selection or to let them know about their achievements in the workplace.

Current Incentives can include:

  • Length of service — Rewards employees on their employment anniversary date
  • Sale incentives — Rewards salespeople for reaching their goals
  • Wellness programs — Rewards employees for achieving health & fitness goals
  • Safety programs — Rewards workers for reducing workplace accidents, reducing absenteeism
  • Recognition programs — Rewards employees for accomplishing a specific task, or tasks, over a period of time
  • Referral programs — Rewards employees or customers for recommending a new client
  • Loyalty Programs – Rewards employees for length of service to an organization
  • Casino Players Clubs – Rewards casino players with points for dollars wagered which can be redeemed for merchandise.

Incentive 2.o?

In the past, incentive programs were hosted on a standalone web site or simply through a printed catalog.  For corporations, it’s now possible to communicate real-time incentive marketing program updates, from adding rewards to celebrating winners.  Program administrators can also engage in a daily two-way dialogue with participants, not feasible with traditional online or print incentive programs.

It’s not a secret employees are spending more and more time on Facebook throughout the work day.   Corporations are realizing they need to join them in their environment, not just block the site.  The application is designed to improve corporations’ presence in social media by building their corporate communities and increasing the number of their followers on Facebook. By hosting the incentive program on corporate Facebook pages, there’s finally a way for corporations to connect with employees in an effective way through Facebook.

How it works

1 – A branded incentive marketing catalog is created for the corporation’s Facebook page by Taraci Motivation

2 – Once the program is officially launched, participants are directed to the corporation’s official Facebook Page

3 – By entering their username and password, employees can see their point totals and redeem rewards.

Recognition Over Money?

During this tough economic climate it’s more important than ever to motivate employees who are frustrated due to many factors, including constant downsizing, lack of promotions and salaries being frozen.   A simple  “Good Job” or public employee appreciation in front of other employees on a social application will go a long way to keep employees happy.    Looks like Taraci Motivation understands how employees actually feel, here is an interesting list of what employees say they want compared to what employers think employees want.  Quite the disconnect if you ask me.

Employees just want to be recognized.  They want it over more money, more interesting work, job security, or good working conditions.

Seriously, just telling your employees they are doing a good job, more publicly and more often will greatly increase your company morale.  I wish my last employer knew that.  Oh well…

According to Taraci, the response to the Taraci Social Media Mgr has been tremendous.  The Taraci Motivation Mgr was first released in May 2011 and enhancements are continually being added to the application. “We’re  set to launch a number of new programs on Facebook in Q4 and continue to be in active discussions with a variety of category leaders in travel, shipping, entertainment, finance, marketing, consumer products and services, and more.”

From the looks of it, maybe more corporations should look into Taraci Motivation.  I hope so… with 10% of the workforce highly engaged, companies need to do whatever it takes to keep their best employees happy.  I know I am.


Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook or Google+ Which Provides More Value?

Social applications have taken our world by storm the last few years and have indeed proven they are important utilities in our lives. I think it is safe to say some are mere vanity and fun; some are valuable resources to help us move forward in our life pursuits.

The question is: which is which?

I have to say LinkedIn – with the ability to keep me connected with important people in my industry, help distribute my writing as well as bring me updated with relevant industry articles and information each day – has positioned itself as the most valuable network in my life.  Consumer Privacy concerns aside, the future looks HUGE for LinkedIn.  I use LinkedIn pretty much every day, somehow someway.

Twitter is a close second.  It has helped distribute information as well as loosely connect me with thousands of people.  It’s potential to change the world is still largely untapped.  I check Twitter every day.

Facebook does not provide $100 billion worth of value in my life… do I really care about what all my old high school friends and other acquaintances are doing?  Harsh, yes.  But apparently it’s not very valuable to me.  It’s just something of a courtesy check every day or day to see the what’s going on in my friends lives.  But the problem is – I’m really not engaged with the network.  Will this change?

Google+ just seems to be skidding along right now with no real value proposition above and beyond all the others mentioned.  It is worthless to me at this point.  What say you?

I don’t care the valuation of each as a company; I am wondering which provides the most value to you as a user – every day.  I have a feeling the one with the highest valuation is not providing the most value… do you agree?   Answer why you feel the way you do in the comments.





Google Plus

$99,970,000,000 is The Difference Between These 3 Decisions

If MySpace would have just copied Facebook, it would have been FacebookSean Parker

That was Sean Parker’s answer to the question “what happened to MySpace?”  in a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon.  This got me thinking and was the needle prick I needed to start on a topic I have wanted to write about for some time.

If you can remember at one time MySpace was the social networking behemoth, holding the crown as the largest site on the web.  “Do you have a MySpace?” was the proverbial question between twenty-somethings.   They had over a hundred  million users worldwide, were driving revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars and it looked as though we had an MTV 2.0 on our hands.  They made headlines with the acceptance of a $580 million acquisition from News Corp, validating Social Networking as a ligament startup business venture.   Little did we know they would turn out to be a joke, an afterthought on the web and a huge lesson to any young founder looking to build the next big company.

At right is a snapshot of the MySpace.com monthly unique users from earlier this year (courtesy of Techcrunch). As you can see (and probably already knew) usage has continued to plummet.  MySpace is literally a ghost town at the same time Facebook has grown to the largest site in the world, officially eclipsing 700 million users on their way to an inevitable 1 billion users and will soon IPO with a valuation of more than $100 billion!  This begs the question: What happened?

My take from Parker’s statement is MySpace had such a massive lead in users, media coverage as well as total mindshare in the social networking space it was their race to loose.  Quickly incorporating the features they saw Facebook releasing could have helped them stay atop the game.  Imagine what MySpace would be worth now if all they did was manage to keep it all together and ride out this new wave of social/mobile web.  Definitely more than the rumored $30 million News Corp is looking for to get them off their books.  What a sad ending to once dominant company.  To take Parker’s statement a bit further, I argue the biggest mistake MySpace made was sell out to the suits for a mere $580 million.  Here are three key differences that add up to a $99,970,000,000 difference between Facebook and MySpace.

Lack of vision and Leadership

The biggest difference between Facebook and MySpace is an intangible I have written about it extensively before.  Just as the difference between Apple and Microsoft was found in Leadership, so too was the difference between the social networking companies Facebook and MySpace.   (Get used to me writing about vision and leadership because I believe it is the number one reason companies succeed or fail.)  MySpace was early out of the gate and sprinted the first mile but did not foresee what could possible be on the horizon.  All they knew was people wanted a page to customize as their own and maybe a place find and connect with others.  But who was leading MySpace?  To put it bluntly, MySpace had no clue what they were doing and no clue who to look towards for leadership.  MySpace was not created by a visionary such as Mark Zuckerberg, who saw something in the web most did not.  They were driving solely on dollars and revenue, and the lack of vision and focus devastated MySpace’s growth in the end.

If Facebook was only a profile page where you can connect to your friends, MySpace would have won the race.  Facebook bet (and won) on a vision of the personalized web, integrating our friends in almost everything we do in the digital world.  Zuckerberg saw not only a web of information, but a web of people and set out to connect all those people into the web.  Execution on this vision required laser focus from a passionate founder.  MySpace ran the first mile faster but lost its way.  Facebook knew the course and won the marathon.

Message to entrepreneurs:  Have the intelligence to place a visionary leader at the heart of your company and let them guide the way.

Technically Inept

Myspace proved they were technically inept, lacking any engineering vision of how the web should work.  According to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek tell-all article, the company was constantly at odds with leadership on how/what/where to innovate.  “They were having to do all technical innovations to address the various panics that are happening. Basically their development cycle turned into one of crisis management, not one of innovation.”  Bottom line, MySpace lacked the vision as well as the technical edge necessary for a web company to maintain their dominant position.

More importantly, MySpace was not created as an innovative new platform built by forward thinking engineers. They were a company who decided to copy Friendster using sub-par technology but grew because they understood how to market their brand to the general public.  Choice quote from the article: “Using .NET is like Fred Flintstone building a database,” says David Siminoff, whose company owns the dating website JDate, which struggled with a similar platform issue. “The flexibility is minimal. It is hated by the developer community.”  Why did they choose to do this?  Driven by revenue pressures they chose to skimp on technical details and focus on more ads.

On the contrary, Facebook was intended from the beginning to be a socially transformational technology built by smart engineers.  Zuck made it a point that their engineers would determine the road ahead.  They aimed to redefine the web and understood this would require major investment.   As a non-technical executive, it was still obvious to me who was stronger in  engineering talent between the two companies.  Remember how refreshingly clean a Facebook profile felt vs the craziness that was a MySpace profile.  MySpace chose to skimp on the engine and polish the chrome.  Bad mistake.

In an interesting note, most close to Zuckerberg would admit the best decision he has ever made was to bring in a much senior and more businesslike Sheryl Sandberg as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.  It is said she is in more direct managerial oversight than Zuck, and who would want that?  Sandberg has been credited with building out Google’s ad business, helping create a multi-billion dollar search ad business.  I credit Mark for submitting his ego and filling holes with the right people, Facebook is better off for it.  Looking at MySpace and their recent history I cannot say the same.  Holes were not filled and egos were not subdued.

Message to entrepreneurs:  Know where you are good, understand where you need to be great, and find the right people to fill the gaps.

Poor Culture Fit with News Corp

“I think any time a startup is acquired, there’s always a certain amount of culture clash.” – Chris Dewolfe, MySpace Co-founder and one time CEO.

The worst decision for the future of MySpace was to sell the company to News Corp.  (Okay, the founders and initial investors made out fine, but the future of the company pretty much was set in stone.)  Time and time again I observe or read about another startup being acquired by a larger company and I think to myself  “well, there it goes…

The blazing, crazy, edgy, partying, sometimes innovative culture of MySpace was suffocated by the bureaucracy of corporate New Corp.  Do yourself a favor and think about your startup culture currently, and then think about the culture in a Microsoft, Google, Aol, or any other large corporation.  Ask Dennis Crowley.  Ask Evan Williams.  Ask Caterina Fake.   It usually doesn’t end well when you sell your booming startup to a large corporation.  Facebook fought off takeover bid after take over bid until everyone knew they just weren’t ever going to be for sale.  That’s ballsy, but its also what has to happen if you want to see your vision come together.

Message for entrepreneurs:  If you have a long term vision for your company, don’t sell – ever!  If you want to make some quick money, sell at the top of your hype – and walk away as early as you can.  The post-acquisition company will be nothing like the pre-acquisition company.

I am tired of seeing innovative startups being gobbled up by larger corporations only to disappear off the face of the earth – this is not how innovation changes the world.  It is actually how innovation is hindered.  I understand, as a founder you are double minded building your company.  You want to make a chunk of cheddar, and  there’s nothing wrong with that.  Isn’t that what going into business is all about?  I understand… and I would want to do the same thing in your position.

But before you sign those papers I would step back and determine what you really want and if it’s the best option.  If you really need to sell, truth is you did not build the company correctly.  If you want to cash in, great.  But understand, odds are the world will no longer be changed by your innovation.  If you really feel selling is the best option, think deep and hard about the culture inside your company as well as inside the potential acquirer because the marriage is going to be tough.  And if you feel deep down in your heart your company has a great future, don’t sell out.  Just think about how News Corp and the original MySpace founders feel about this outcome right now.

Image courtesy of Flickr user UltraRob.

This post was originally published on BusinessInsider.com.

Being a Founder is easy…

it’s actually properly executing and growing the vision (being a Finisher) which is extremely hard.

To every dreamer I have known
May Lady Luck take you home
I pray for every wannabe
Dreamin’ big and livin’ free like me

Kenny Chesney “Like Me”

As an entrepreneur and founder, I can relate to Kenny Chesney’s words in his song Like Me, from the album The Road and the Radio.   Along the road of being a Founder you meet a lot of wannabees, dreamin big and livin free.  Being a Founder, by definition, means all you have done is starting something.   You are a dreamer, thinking of all the ways the world could be better with your new  idea, software, device, app, project or team.  Founders are great and we will always need Founders.  In fact, every company ever started has had founders.  Apple.  Google.  Microsoft.  Facebook.  They all started with an idea from the mind of one or two people.

Founder –noun

a person who founds or establishes.

Finisher – noun
a person who brings (something) to an end or to completion; complete:

But what about being a Finisher?  Take a look at those simple definitions once again.   Founder starts – Finisher completes.  Seems to me Finisher’s are a lot less celebrated in our society, yet they are equally if not more important than a Founder to the success of an enterprise.   A finisher enables the project to be completed.  They lead the team which launches a new product or service and makes sure it gets into the right hands for success.  They are the one who establishes the appropriate processes so the system can function properly.  They line up investors for future growth or acquirers to fulfill the liquidation process for early stakeholders.  In short, Finisher’s complete what a Founder has started.  And in the end isn’t that what matters?  It is interesting that a Founder can hold a majority equity stake in company, but only earn his wealth if a finisher is present to help bring things to fruition.   Let it be known, some Founders are also Finishers, but it is extremely rare and it takes a lot of resiliency.  I would venture to say this is the main reason why the majority of startups fail to make it to “completion” – they in fact had a Founder, but no Finisher.

There are a lot of Founders in this world, for which I are thankful for since innovation starts with a vision.  But I think the world needs a heck of a lot more Finishers.  Which one are you?