It is either a good week to be having a CrunchUp focusing on the faltering Facebook ecosystem or it is a terrible week. Either way it is a compelling and interesting week, and whether it is good or bad depends on who you are and what your role is in the ecosystem.
Following the departure of Ethan Beard (director of platform partnerships); Katie Mitic (platform marketing director) and Jonathan Matus (mobile platform marketing manager) this week; and the revelations from an embittered and chastened Dalton Caldwell, it seems to me that the tide is turning against Facebook as a reliable partner for developers to depend upon.
In the very same week, Twitter has stirred up its developer ecosystem to fear that its latest moves are both self-serving and destined to punish their loyalty. One consequence of this has been the departure of Mike McCue from its Board of Directors. Google meanwhile is rumored to have stopped hires and acqui-hires related to its G+ ecosystem, which already has poor support for third party developers.
There are common themes underlying the three major players struggles with how to grow revenue, particularly mobile revenue, while their web traffic is declining as a percentage of the total. They are all in a life or death fight, both with each other, but more importantly with the emerging mobile ecosystem, largely dominated by Apple. None of the three has yet successfully understood how to make money from mobile, despite — in all cases — reaching a point where mobile users outnumber desktop-only users and where the growth of mobile significantly outpaces that from desktop and laptop machines.
In addition — especially for Facebook and Twitter — the drive to grow revenue in order to justify gigantic valuations overwhelms a natural desire to serve the needs of developers and users alike. In stream ads (Twitter); sponsored stories (Facebook) are both examples of flawed revenue strategies that directly conflict with a good user experience.
There are a few possible explanations for what is happening.
One is that both Twitter and Facebook have abandoned product-focused development in favor of revenue-focused development. Hunter Walk argues this convincingly in the case of Twitter in his widely-quoted piece this week.
A second explanation is that there is simply too much power being given to non-product teams and that this has lead to confusion at both companies, nobody knows whether the product team is the tail and the revenue team is the dog, or the other way around. But that no clear strategy exists is obvious. Product and user focused thinking is in decline, it is akin to having chopped off the head of a chicken only to see it running around aimlessly, devoid of a brain.
A third is that both companies are slowly and patiently building a more mobile-centric, revenue focused, version of themselves (include Google here too) and that version 2.0 of their ecosystems will differ significantly from version 1.0. This will impact both users and developers but will ultimately make them relevant to the future. Developers will – like the companies themselves – have to adapt or die.
It is likely that there is some truth in all three of these points of view. It is also true that there is enormous danger in the transition they are all being forced to go through. Death is not to be ruled out. But it is also true that a failure to do anything, to rely on the old web-based, web 2.0 infrastructure and ecosystem, would inevitably lead to failure and irrelevance as new mobile-centric ecosystems emerge.
Based on this there are some things we know about Facebook, Twitter and G+.
Interestingly all of the above may represent an opportunity for Yahoo, under Marissa Mayer, to make a comeback. Yahoo really missed out on the decentralized world of web 2.0. It remained a centralized portal focused on content as the world moved to feeds, aggregation and syndication. Despite that it remained a very large, but restrained and under-monetized, property. In reinventing Yahoo, Meyer could do worse than try to figure out some of the new puzzles given birth by the growing app-centric mobile ecosystem.
The one positive thing that this week has so far thrown light on is that there is a widespread recognition that things cannot stay the same.
The Facebook of 2011, the twitter of 2011 and the Google of 2011 are all understood to be in need of reinvention for a mobile-centric world with no clear strategy to make revenue.
Rome is burning, but the recognition of the need to dispense with it and build the new ecosystem is widespread.
In this world Apple holds more aces than any other player. it has the largest ecosystem of devices, developers and revenues. It does not need advertising revenues, and it has a model that works for successful developers and itself alike. There are few if any disharmonies. Google, with Android, could put itself in a similar position if it could truly abandon its web-centric past and focus on Android as its central ecosystem. This, unlikely as it seems, would make a lot of long term sense. Facebook, relegated to being an app provider on the platforms of others, along with Twitter, seem to be in the weakest position, and need to be boldest of all. Investor pressure should not detract from product needs as they seek to chart their future.
With developments this week, the three other players have all declared an intent to compete, even if it means destroying the ecosystems that have so far made them successful. Brave, bold and unpopular moves are always fraught with danger, and may indeed prove to be mistaken, But doing nothing isn’t an option. Get your ticket for the CrunchUp if you want to understand more……
[Image via usu.edu]
Launch Date: February 1, 2004
Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 845 million monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 weeks, half of the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Eduardo Saverin to help build Facebook, and within four months, Facebook added 30 more college networks. The original...
Launch Date: March 21, 2006
Twitter, founded by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006 (launched publicly in July 2006), is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to post updates 140 characters long. Twitter “is a real-time information network that connects [users] to the latest stories, ideas, opinions, and news.” The service can be accessed through a variety of methods, including Twitter’s website; text messaging; instant messaging; and third-party desktop, mobile, and web applications. Twitter is currently available in...