Here’s an easy question. How does social media fund itself? You don’t get to pick ‘taking out loans from venture capitalists’. Seriously, the business model for social media is advertising, just the same as it was for more traditional media. Sure the advertising is more targeted now, build from a personalization engine, more easily retail than advertising has been in the history of ‘hey buddy, wanna buy a sundial.’ With that nugget of hard-to-swollow knowledge, and with the recent acquisition of Instagram by Facebook, it’s more clear to me than ever that Facebook is going to win this great big social experiment we call the Internet.
I was pretty bent out of shape by the Instagram acquisition shortly after I read about it. I wasn’t upset with Facebook for acquiring Instagram. I wasn’t upset with Instagram for selling out. No, I was upset with a legion of self-righteous hipsters who got their dander up and, with noses raised, declared that they would never be caught dead using a Facebook product.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised. It’s probably no surprise that the people that Instagram attracted skew towards the elitist technoarti end of spectrum. I’ve heard Gruber (my strawman for elitist, technoarti) say on several occasions that he doesn’t use Facebook because he doesn’t get get what it’s for. I can tell you what Facebook is, strawman Gruber. It’s the virtual table people are sitting around at the family Thanksgiving get-together or High School reunion.
Facebook may not have started out this way, but as it’s grown this is what it’s become. People you have had some tenuous relationship with getting together and talking around a table, swapping jokes, telling stories. It’s made easier by the immediacy of the Internet, you don’t have to store the cool stories in your brain and regurgitate them, you can just send them over to Facebook while you’re browsing.
People have been swapping jokes and stories long before the Internet. Email worked for that too, but email wasn’t really the right media for these social encounters. You could do the same thing on forums, but who was on those? Facebook is the thing that’s reached the masses for communal sharing of stories. Mass Social Media. Huh. Novel concept.
Where it doesn’t surprise me that the muckity mucks of tech journalism wouldn’t be a big presence in this communal coffee shop is the generally introverted nature of the people in this demographic. Here’s a hint, if you have to have your Mom guilt-trip you into the family reunion, Facebook may not appeal to you.
Here’s Facebook’s advantage, it doesn’t care how the stories get into it. Look at the difference between Google Plus and Facebook on this score. You can post to Facebook (and Twitter) from just about any media consumption application on the Internet. There are ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons all over the Web, and more importantly, there is a published API for apps to post stories to Facebook. Facebook wants you to post, period.
Google Plus, besides ‘Plus’ buttons all over the Web, doesn’t encourage posting of stories really. Other than the official Google Plus app, there’s no mobile conduit to posting things to Google Plus. The conduit to post stories and consume them is the browser. It’s not surprising, Google’s central conciet is that the Internet is made of butts in seats clicking with a mouse in a browser.
Know what? That Internet is disappearing. Mobile is where people are. Mobile is where people are going. As we gravitate to the computer in our pocket the Internet is being App-ified. You don’t interact with ‘The Mobile Internet’ through a browser, at least not by choice. The user experience of Internet content is orders of magnitude better when viewed through an application optimized for a mobile device than through a web browser. Why wasn’t Instagram created as an HTML5 application that you used through your mobile device web browser?
So… The future is mobile. The future is frictionless sharing. Who’s doing this the best right now? Pinterest. Wait, what? How the hell did a story about Facebook, Instagram and Google Plus end up with Pinterest? Take a look at the user interface for Instagram. Take a look at the user interface for Pinterest. Hrm… seems kinda similar. What did Facebook really buy? Facebook didn’t buy 30 million users, they bought the product that Pinterest (the fastest growing social network in history) stole their UI from.
Facebook knows that frictionless sharing is what’s going to win in the long run. Facebook knows that mobile is what the Internet is going to become. Anyone that doesn’t see these truths is running to where the ball was, not to where it’s going to be. That’s why Facebook is going to win at the Internets. It’s running to where The Internet is going to be, not where it is.
: Which is really ‘The Internet’, people who add the ‘Mobile’ are just in denial.