It was a busy feature announcement day at Facebook's f8 developers conference. Actually, call it a complete overhaul. Facebook will now offer a timeline to let people scroll back through their lives through visual tiles, a ticker feature that seems like a Twitter competitor that incorporates apps, and eventually the ability to share movies and music with one another.
But even though this is a comprehensive and new approach for the site, does it make business sense? One off-hand wisecrack made by someone at AllThingsD put this into perspective. And the answer is, no, it won't make long-term business sense because Facebook has got something backwards about its strategy.
Hey, look us over
The AllThingsD remark -- from someone in the "peanut gallery," according to Liz Gannes -- was a comment on what product management VP Chris Cox said about his whole life being on Facebook: dropping out of school, moving, launching products, getting married, and buying a dog:
In the AllThingsD peanut gallery, we think that f8 in a few years will be all about sharing stuff about your kids, when Cox and Zuck and the rest start having them.It was a flash of high tech business insight. Facebook management, from founder Mark Zuckerberg on down, sees the entire world through its own eyes, not those of its customers.
That's why the company seems so clueless about users who get angry over privacy issues or changes in the interface that force them to relearn how to use the site. It's why, when Facebook changes what information goes into a news stream, many people will complain that this is about their lives and their friends, so why is Facebook making decisions about what they want to see?
Not all people react this way, but many do. You have to wonder if Facebook management even notices. That's because the company assumes that everyone is like its employees. Getting that type of association can be powerful in business, but it has to have the right direction. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has always been brilliant at understanding design because he knew that he was like other people in some important ways. Overly complex products bothered him. He wanted things that looked good and worked well and didn't require fuss.
You'll do it my way
Facebook has taken this in the opposite direction. Instead of seeing themselves in others, its movers and shakers see others in themselves. It's not, "I'm like everyone else," which comes from observation. It's, "Everyone else is like me," which is born of assumption. Well, that combined with the realization that getting people to post more means more data that advertisers will find really useful.
But the value in Facebook doesn't come from software or clever applications. It comes from having many people you'd like to connect with available. The users bring the value. Facebook is making the system incredibly complex for people to do what they simply want to do -- connect with friends, families, and people they've met online -- all in the name of making it easier to connect with others.
Facebook feels an overwhelming need to do something because of pressure from Google (GOOG) and Google+. Its people want to come up with a new service or rearrange things or add more to show up their competitor. And Google comes onto the market in a clean way whose operations and design don't get in the way.
That's why, with the way things look now -- no matter how cool or technically exciting the changes to Facebook seem -- Google will win. Because, ultimately, Facebook will appeal to the consumers that are just like them. And most probably aren't.