Ed. Note: I belong to FaceBook, a social network that began life as a college project and has since “graduated” if you will to full social network status. As it turns out, this company’s early years were either a canny strategy or the biggest piece of dumb luck since Jerry Yang chose to call his web portal Yahoo!
The Missing Link
FaceBook just might be a bridge between “what the kids are doing” and what the adults are looking for; namely, grown up social networking. Here’s why
First, in the case of FaceBook as members of its original college-based network graduated into the “real world” they brought with them a desire to stay connected via what else: their college network. And many of those kids were students of the web, of programming, and of business and marketing. Sounds like the right combination at the right time, doesn’t it?
Second, our nation’s public and private colleges have a combined budget bigger than the Gross National Product of most South Americas nations, and could surely afford to create a much more technologically savvy network than a could a couple of college kids … right? Wrong. FaceBook filled the void overlooked by the better funded, but less nimble, bureaucracies.
Third, the “velvet rope” factor of FaceBook was too much to resist. It was the ultimate insider ticket. Plus, why should college kids get all the kicks? Pretty soon grown-ups wanted in and then the Face (as I call it) went big time. I mean b-i-g t-i-m-e. How big? How does $8 billion sound? Yeah. That’s what some investment banks have estimated it could be worth. Still think the Internet is kid stuff?
Finally, FaceBook began, and has maintained its traction, with a more open-minded and savvy audience than any would-be social network except MySpace. Thing is, MySpace is its own worst enemy, so while Ruper Murdoch is busy allaying the fears of angry soccer moms and vice squads worldwide, as well as the host of NBC’s To Catch a Predator, FaceBook has been able to concentrate on business. Say Rupert, how’s that investment looking now? Still sure you didn’t overpay?
The Best Gets Better
Despite having aced out the competition, what’s really amazing is that FaceBook took off not because it had a captive college audience but because it was truly the best platform of its kind. Why? Because it is
- easy to use
- easy to join
- fully customizable (in a meaningful way)
This last point is perhaps the most important. MySpace is customizable too … in the same sense as a crappy, rusted out old car with shiny hubcaps. That last touch can turn that rusty old car into … a crappy rusted out old car with shiny hubcaps. Not really that different than it was before.
The Face is different: the developers have taken a cue from a company you may have heard of called Google that began inviting the public starting about 3 years ago to look under the hood of its website and create their own spin-offs. There’s that whole “give up the family secrets” thing again, this time being done by the biggest, richest, ass-kickingest Internet company of all time. So the Face did it too and guess what? The result was an explosion of mini-programs created by 3rd parties to enhance the experience of users on FaceBook. It’s win-win. These plug-ins or applets extended the capabilities of the network (like after-market car parts) so it could evolved to fit the needs of users and not the other way around.
Radical Transparency: Shake Your Moneymaker
As for radical transparency – the practice of exposing your deepest secrets and subjecting your business practices to public scrutiny and comment with the idea that input from the crowd will result in a better end product, I can hear the lawyers and judges screaming now …
Are you suggesting that our venerable law firm, which has been advising the biggest companies and most important people in the country since 1909, make our proprietary, one of a kind, super-secret methods public? What about confidentiality? What about competitive advantage? You’re a traitor to the profession for even suggesting it. Off with your head. Begin disbarment proceedings.
.. or something like that.
So what does this tale of new age economics and business-models gone wild tell us? On that note, I give you my contribution to a recent conversation on FaceBook between your humble narrator and fellow Attorney Martin”Marty” Schwimmer. As usual, I’ve spared my conversation partner the embarrassment of being quoted and limited my mockery to my comments alone. Enjoy …
Marty asked about social networking with clients. Do I use devices like FaceBook? Even Instant Messaging a la Yahoo, MSN, AOL?
I took the liberty of answering Marty’s question with respect to not only clients, but my fellow attorneys, and here is how I put it
I have tried for years to get attorneys from my area to connect via social networks. Not easy when judges around here have come out and referred to the Internet as the province of pedophiles and are proud to say they’ve never touched their computers and never will. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues lack the conceptual tools to take advantage of the technology anyway. It isn’t merely a generational question: as a profession lawyers don’t see a need to change, so they won’t — until they are forced to do so or threatened with losing power.
As for my clients, these days they are individuals or very small businesses. I used to be outside counsel for a utility company. While there was a lot of red tape there, at least they hired open minded, progressive people — I set up an Extranet for them back in 2002 and it changed the way we did business. It also made me a bit of a star. Thinking ahead of the curve can be great as long as you’re not too far ahead and lose the pack altogether, because the leading edge is the bleeding edge.
In short, I guess the only thing that drives people is necessity; just because something can be done better, faster, and even cheaper, is apparently no reason to do it that way. It’s a shame but I guess it’s human nature.