After years of waffling, Facebook appears to have discovered the right direction this year. Along with a focus on operational efficiencies and growing Facebook Ads revenue—Facebook has been working hard to enhance its offering across a number of major consumer technology trends, such as location-based solutions, network noise reduction, user-generated social content, etc.
From the first breath it drew, Facebook’s lifeline was the network itself. today, with over 500 million users worldwide, almost any application or service it launches are bound to be immediately tried, adopted (or criticized), and used because they are already embedded into each user’s network.
With Places, Facebook challenges services like FourSquare and Gowalla—two of the most buzzing companies in the last two years, and easily lets people check in to the place they are visiting and broadcast to their network.
Facebook Groups now helps people filter down their network and reduce the noise of all those “friends,” by giving them a quieter space to discuss their interests, essentially taking small chips at companies that provide interest-based online communities such as Ning.
Facebook Friendship Pages is another attempt to offer a more relevant community experience, this time applying an even thinner sieve, creating a place for one-to-one communication. Evidence of Facebook’s early developmental stage is the fact that users can use the Friendship pages not just for their own relationships, but also to display any relationships between two friends on their network. As Jared Newman from PC World says, it’s “cool but creepy.”
Drop.io was recently acquired to enable users to share documents on Facebook. This, I believe, is an attempt to chip at Google’s set of productivity tools. It remains to be seen whether users will actually move from the robust Google suite.
And, last week Facebook announced it will be adding shopping deals to Places which will connect local merchants with consumers—taking a daring stab at Groupon, the market leader in local merchant group discounts and a company estimated at over 3 billion dollars in value.
Facebook today can afford testing out different initiatives—just like Google has done over the years. Unlike Google however, who relied on a single revenue model in the form of online ads, Facebook is looking to drive revenue from multiple channels. While it is a smart business decision, it often conflicts with delivering user value (as we’ve seen in the Privacy battles of the last few years). As Facebook matures, it will be interesting to see if it will turn into the adult it can be or stay in the all endearing, but often tedious, teenage state.