I'm interupting my usual academic ramble to blog about facebook, business model and system.
Don't get me wrong. Unlike the many social network bashers out there, I absolutely love facebook. I use twitter and linkedin for my professional life and facebook for my personal and social life.
Here's how I co-create value on facebook:
I update my status at least once a day, to a max of 3 times. I have 30+ family members over 4 continents and it's the means through which I keep in touch with their children, events and general life and they can keep in touch with my life. I have a further 200 friends all over the world and I am grateful that everyone bothers to update and keep in touch as well so we form a good community. We share photos, joys, pains, irritations from big events (such as graduation, births etc.) to menial stuff like what we ate for lunch. We share youtube links, photos and jokes from the downright ridiculous to those that get you on the floor laughing. My three girls (2 teen and 1 adult) are all on facebook as are my mom and dad and my aunts.
Our interactions keep us connected. Some of us just play farmville. Some are just stalkers. Some are too shy to say anything, some (like me) often say too much. Some post political links and opinions and others upload mobile photos from where they're travelling. When my husband created an 'eggs'-plosion because he forgot he was boiling eggs in the kitchen, the photo was online within minutes and family from various parts of the world commented on it. I have 500+ photos online and with my iPad, I pull them down to show photos of my house, kids, garden etc. when I visit family who don't have facebook accounts. The interactions can be many and menial, few and life-changing or a combination. All in all, it makes us all log in at least once a day. The combination of interactions surrounding the big and the menial happenings in our daily lives result in various emergent properties in a social network system - community, comfort and serve to generate further activities outside of the online world and make the world a lot smaller.
What of privacy? There is an old saying - we are only afraid of inventions that happen after we're born. hydrochlorofluorocarbons are in your fridge but we don't seem to cringe when we go to the kitchen. Radio was harmful when it was first introduced. I'm not trying to underplay privacy issues. Rather, I am saying that everything in the world is dangerous if you don't know how to manage it. A hammer, nails - all very dangerous. But we're not threatened by them. We know how to keep it out of reach of children and use it safely because we have the skill set to manage it. So facebooking is a 21st century living skill set that you need to acquire to co-create value in a social network. And if you acquire that skill set, you acquire resources (knowledge) to make wonderful things happen.
What is this skill set?
First, managing privacy.
I have 4 privacy levels - limited profile for people I don't know well; acquaintances for those I know but aren't close. normal for... well, normal friends; close and family friends for the 'inner circle'. With 53 photo albums, my friends have various access rights to view some albums but not others e.g. As an academic, I have public albums viewable by all and family albums viewable by inner circle only. I even have information that is available to 'everyone' and is 'google-able' (horrors!). I don't think everything should be private nor do I think everything should be out there. The skill is to know what information should be private or public depending on what benefit you can get from it. It may sound complicated but its as complicated as learning to programme a VCR back in the eighties and as a 21st century skill set, I believe I have it. Do you?
Second, managing time
How much time do I put into facebook? To many of my friends, they think I spend too much time. Actually, I don't. Usually I am on fb for my downtimes - at airports, waiting for the next appointment, in trains. It can be a distraction (so can my hubby but I'm not getting rid of him) but you just manage it because the benefits are there. Does it require some discipline? probably... i mean do we require discipline to not reach for that third/fourth/fifth glass of wine?
Third, managing effort
I upload photos, comment of friends statuses (statii?).. I have downtimes (when I'm on online once a day) and uptimes (on all day). More importantly, I cajole, persuade and badger other friends and family to come onto facebook because it is the community and interactions that matter - not the size of my network. So my effort is to keep my page active and to badger others to keep theirs active.
So the currency of facebook isn't money. I don't pay money for it. Yet I do ' pay' for it in effort, time and privacy so as to attain the joys, connectedness, company from my friends and love from my family. At the loneliest place in the world (i.e. airports), I am still connected. If you see a woman smiling at her iPhone in the middle of an airport, that would be me - seeing the latest photo of my nephew, or laughing at a link posted by my daughter.
Note that the three skill sets above are the (operant) 'resources' I put in to co-create value. There are revenue model implications here if fb wants to charge a subcription because they would then be making me add a fourth resource - my money; mmm....you can, but you need to think about how.
Which of course leads me to the facebook business model. Which is? capitalising on the size of the network which in turn generate the eyeballs and click throughs on ads. Are you feeling something is not right? of course...here's where the problem is.
Misalignment of value in the Business Model
Think about google. What is the value of google for a user? Ads and information that is tailored for my needs as precisely as possible when I use the search engine. How does google make money? through ads and information tailored more precisely for the customer's needs. See the match? The value I co-create with Google is the same value Google is deriving revenues for (even if paid by advertisers).
Facebook? the value I co-create above is obviously NOT the same value Facebook derives revenue for. Sure, if I get more people onto facebook I get a bigger network which is great for facebook - but getting people onto facebook is for me a means to an end. I don't really get a whole lot of value from just getting my friends on facebook. I get it when they interact with me. So obviously, there is a whole misalignment of the value I co-create and the value facebook derives revenue from.
This misalignment poses a huge challenge on the viability and sustainability of facebook as a system. At it's current state, it is barely viable, even though the network is growing. Long term sustainability becomes an issue. I have seen many companies who don't recognise that the customer value from their offering is not the value they derive revenues from. It usually ends tragically. An organisation core competence must come from its capability to effect core value transformations which are the same transformations that is co-created with customers and which are valued by the same customers. The alignment becomes valuable for revenues to the extent that customers may not even have to a penny for it. While there can be revenues from other sources (as it is for Google), primary revenue should come from that alignment. Until facebook achieves alignment of core value transformations, it's unsustainable, at least, from my point of view.
This value that I attain from facebook is an emergent property. It's community, it's perceived connectedness, it's company - all of which are emergent from interactions. If you've been reading my blog you would understand that you can't determine emergent properties - merely intervene where it could catalyse, faciliate and enable the system to achieve the properties. And how does facebook do that? asking you to click through more targeted ads. wow. really? actually, i would argue they are NOT interested in the emergent properties. they just want more eyeballs - a bigger network - more, more, more! someone should tell them about roman empire...which part of hearts and minds did they not get?
Also, emergent properties, systems and interactions are a new science. i guess i can just call them uneducated. but again, if they don't get their act together, big systems can fail. big time.
OK, so what should facebook do (aside from hiring me that is, but I'm too busy facebooking, sorry..)
Focus on transforming information - not just harness information - facebook spends too much time with the analytics guys and not enough with value guys. If they know how to assist facebookers in transforming their information better, they would have a much more robust revenue model.
Focus on enabling quality interactions - it's not the people ...s****d! it's their interactions! Quality interactions generate quality information and great emergent properties. Help your facebookers transform interactions and information and you're on the right road.
I decided to write this blog (and give fb some free advice) because this morning, something happened that p****d me off. My darling nephew, only 7 months old, had a facebook page. It was my sister who created it because she wanted to keep her identity separate from his. I visit this site often as my sister would update his activities, teething problems, crawling, smiling. Loads of photos and videos and i love it. 'Marcus is feeling cranky this morning'; 'Marcus misses his dad who is away for the weekend'.... it was a wonderful way to watch Marcus grow up. I show it on my iPad to family as well. All of us family around the world love the page.
Facebook closed it this morning because you need to be 13 and above to have a facebook page. I understand why. With the number of nasties stalking the internet, we need to protect the young and vulnerable. But shutting it down? could you not create a better mechanism design for this that protect privacy but allow for interactions? Well, fb would probably think - nah... we should just close him down coz he's not going to click on any ads and he's not going to generate more friends, and we can show we care about the vulnerable users.... as long as fb has this current business model, they will continue to struggle with privacy issues and business model sustainability...this is because misalignment of value transformations would result in decisions made that would change the dynamics of value in the system ..
From my read of facebook, these guys probably have a good idea how they became successful (analytics will tell you that) but are completely oblivious to why..... without understanding the core value transformations that made facebook what it is today they would need to be very careful what they tweak, because a system that spirals upward can easily spiral downwards (think myspace) if the interventions are wrong and if you focus on the wrong transformation. Facebook - listen and learn and for heaven's sake, give me my nephew's page back!