Facebook Closed Event – Innovation? – Are They Stuck In The Middle?

Facebook is having an open house today – oh no one knew about it so it really was closed.

What strikes me about Facebook is that they seem to be ‘stuck in the middle’ as it goes in business school. Are they a software developer of a great user experience web service or are they an innovative advertising solution? With all the mounting pressure to monetize they may be falling in the trap to force a monetization strategy that will fail.  What comes to mind is the Portal crazy in the late 90s.

Back in late 90s Google created a kick ass search app then just picked up (copied) the search paradigm from Goto.com. Why? Because they developed a great app called search.  Search drove Google’s success in advertising because their core competency was in algorithms and data center efficiencies that translated directly to what the ‘scaling’ ad market wanted.  Google was smart.  They knew what they wanted to do.

Here we see Facebook (I wasn’t invited so I can’t comment on what they presented) rolling out a new design for the profile page. It feels like a little AOLish to me. I just don’t get the feeling that Facebook gets UI, discovery, and search.  Are they force fitting the UI, navigation, and user experience to get paid on the monetization side?  What I will be looking for here is how well they design the ‘utility’ for users. If they try to hard to monetize they will fail. Facebook has to innovate on the software side or they will lose users fast. Facebook has to solve their ‘clutter problem’.  Additionally, I hope that they are more open for integration for developers.

If Facebook screws this up they won’t be the next Google, but instead be a victim of what we saw with Portals in the late 90s.  We all know how that ended up.

Will Facebook be the Portal model of Social Networks? What is their core strength?

Facebook seems to be stuck in the middle.

Author: John

Entrepreneur living in Palo Alto California and the Founder of SiliconANGLE Media

9 thoughts on “Facebook Closed Event – Innovation? – Are They Stuck In The Middle?”

  1. I don’t see Facebook understanding their users in time to save their business.

    And, I agree with your point that they don’t have a clear sense of who they are and what business model naturally fits with that.

  2. John,
    agreed. facebook is facing a tough road ahead. I remember when Netscape was facing the similar kinds of pressure with their browser – how to leverage that to create as sustainable market position that makes money. Omid and the team at Netcenter did a great job but the other part of Netscape tried all this half baked enterprise crap.

    Facebook might just fall into that trap if they don’t keep their eye on the ball. It’s all about leveraging their core asset the social graph and providng value to users. If I were Facebook I would focus on user value and let the ad market develop around that.

    Then again what do I know

  3. dude are you kidding me? what an absolute nothing article.

    1. they don’t “get” UI? are we talking about the very website that won plaudits for its clean design? for bringing simply photo sharing to the masses? for bringing syndication to the masses with the news feed?

    2. they don’t “get” discovery? you mean to tell me the “friends you may know”, “mutual friends”, news feed, photo tagging etc were not pioneering features for a social network?

    the whole point of the redesign it to make the site more of a utility. The very same Facebook Platform which gave the blogosphere their bandwagon to FB was the thing that hurt usability. So the redesign is basically a way of them being able to get back to basics and move all of the crappy applications to a secondary tab.

    yet here you are talking about FB not “getting” UI. The founder of Podtech of all people. sheesh.

    Too much silly criticism from the blogosphere. What are YOU bringing to the table in respect to discovery, UI and search?

  4. from allfacebook.com

    facebook has a clutter problems…i would focus the engineering and product group on developing a relevance algorithm to filter apps for users.. installing them is easy creating clutter is easy but both contribute to irrelevance.

    facebook needs to be relevant to users.. they need to be think like a search vendor..user experience and discovery = utilty; utility = revenue

    there it is facebook – get to work

  5. John,
    No opinion on Facebook’s UI here, of course, I’m not into the social networking craziness that’s sop rampant lately. My comment is concerning comments.
    I always think badly of a commenter who pops in, criticizes the work, leaves no name and is gone. I’d like to address that one up there ^

    1. No, they don’t get UI. They never did. Why don’t I use Facebook? Same reason I don’t use MySpace. Too much unnecessary crap. Yes, I have accounts at both places. That’s how I know they suck at designing user interfaces.

    2. Discovery? All that stuff you mentioned was borrowed from somewhere else. Are “pokes” innovative? No. Are they worthwhile? I guess so, if you’re brain is totally wasted. And give me a break! Tagging on Facebook, innovative?

    At least leave your name when you make what you think are certainly insightful and honest critiques. Otherwise, we will use the common name for you:

    (Excuse the rant, please, John. Love your site.)

  6. Hey Project:: the post might have been a bit over your head -sorry. see my comment on clutter above.

    I’m not dissing your points 1 and 2 above. Facebook certainly is a pioneer and I’m a big fan. I think Facebook did great when it focused on the utiltiy component and the social graph paradigm i’m a huge supporter of that. I see facebook straddling the line between innovating on the ad side more than the utility side. If they don’t *continue* to innovate the user expereince then they will suffer.

    Lets see the UI and new features and we’ll talk further.

    Now that you brought my mother (podtech) into it – my podtech vision wasn’t a UI destination it was infrastructure and social media platform.. podtech didn’t materialize – i’ve moved on.

    silly criticism you say… i bring 20+ years of experience to the table – btw: i know quite a bit abouit search and discovery; put your name down and i’d be glad to blog publically about it with you. Anytime and place.

  7. @ Jon

    Firstly I apologise if I came across as trollish. I just found the post quite patronising and in tune with the general blogosphere critique I see.

    However, I love the way you pull out “pokes” as a means to demean the rest of the site. It was far more of a troll point than anything I brought up – pokes are a matter of preference, not a decided of UI design.

    1. Where was photo face tagging, with links to all people with that tag used before Facebook? Where else could you click onto a friends profile and see those photos tagged with both you and that friend? And don’t say Flickr because its a much more inferior system for this kind of stuff. For instance, you might have a “furrier” “john furrier” and johnfurrier” tag for the same person on Flickr. It might also be a different john furrier. Facebook photo tagging was a very cool innovation.

    2. Where was the concept of a news feed in a social network before Facebook? The proliferation of imitators since it was introduced tells you everything. MySpace, Bebo, Live Spaces, Twitter, FriendFeed, Jaiku, Plaxo Pulse and so on.

    3. Facebook are leading the way for social networks in respect to fine grained privacy tools and the ability to apply different configurations for different kinds of friends

    @ Furrier

    I don’t feel the need to disclose my real name as it would add nothing to my post. I don’t have a blog and always post under a random handle.

    I feel that the points you made in the post had little grounding in reality, both with Facebook historically and what they announced today (which is arguably a bold step forward as they are effectively denounding applications)

  8. Thanks Project for your comments. Indeed there is innovation in Facebook. I’m grounded in reality here a few blocks from Facebook and in a community of developers all ‘poking’ facebook for monetization. I’ll reiterate my point. Focus on innovation on the user experience (which includes UI design) and backend services is their key to success. Not developing a clutter laced pageview oriented web page.

    I use facebook but i used to use altavista before google. Meaning I will switch to a better utility if Facebook doesn’t provide value.

  9. Hi John – apologies for going OTT before. Bad day and I had no right to take it out on your post.

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