Facebook has begun the The Inevitable Letdown. It was innovative. It was cool. It was fun. But Zuckerberg is so damned paranoid that some little startup is going to deflate his behemoth, that he’s clearly created a reactive culture. They are focusing on competitors more than customers (users). Let me count the ways:
- Geolocation & checkins: Facebook saw Foursquare and its ilk getting users to produce vast amounts of time & location data. Data that could be harvested to create revenue streams from partners & advertisers. Voila, Facebook Places. People predicted it was the death sentence for all the “smaller” players. Facebook would essentially be the schoolyard bully and squash them (by sitting on them, I guess). What they didn’t consider is who the average foursquare user is, and how they compare to the average Facebook user. The average Facebook user plays Farmville and believes Facebook will start charging unless they paste a stupid message (from their other stupid friends) to their wall. Ok, that’s a little harsh. How about this instead: the average Facebook user has a real life outside the interwebs, and they see Facebook as relatively passive entertainment experience. Checking in to a Place is not passive.
- Privacy and Google+: Ok. Most of Facebook’s moves lately [cough]Timeline[/cough] are me-too responses to Google Plus. Privacy, particularly. Sure, Facebook introduced new privacy control tools. But they don’t want you to be private. Their privacy strategy is a classic example of Confusopoly.
- Photo filters and Instagram: I can has filters? Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram make even the most bland pic of a sleeping cat look artsy and fun. They’re kind of like autotune, but for pictures. Facebook wants in on this trend. Adding filters to photo uploads means more time spent on Facebook. Wich means more ad revenue. Here’s what I think they’re missing: using a third party app let’s me share to places other than Facebook– Twitter, Flickr, etc.
The list actually goes on and on. But here’s the point: sure, understanding your competition helps you avoid getting sucker punched by some startup. But if all you’re doing is dodging punches, you’ll inevitably lose sight of the one thing you have in common with your competitors: the customer. If you truly understand your customers’ trials and triumphs, you’ll be able to satisfy their unarticulated needs. And then the competition is chasing you!
Understanding your competitors is good. Understanding your customer is better.