Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"The Social Network" - My Thoughts

Mispronouncing the almighty Facebook by adding a 'The' at the beginning when I announced I was going to see 'The Social Network' garnered a few chuckles around the office - little did I know that it actually started off being called 'The Facebook' and thanks to a contribution by Sean Parker, Napster Creator, decided to drop the 'The'. I had a few reasons for going to this movie, and being in the line of work I'm in (Social Media/Online Marketing) I did feel especially compelled to see this one as soon as I could. It really holds more of a business interest and curiosity, than a need to see an entertaining movie, but that always helps.

Overall, I must say it was a solid movie from an entertaining standpoint. Even though it was obviously about Facebook, it could have been about another company and it's inception just as easily. Meaning that you weren't overwhelmed with the content just being about Facebook, and could appreciate the struggles of a start-up as well as the adversities of the legal battles that ensued, while being entertained by a talented cast and director.

The real interest for me was to see how the creation, the idea, the inception, of how the company itself formed and came to be the power house it is today.

Facebook is a world changing platform.

It's a bold statement, but I say it with certainty. I've seen the progression through the early days to where it is now and watched peoples discussions, interactions, issues change in the process.

Before Facebook, a majority of people and businesses I spoke with could not understand the industry I was in, why I was in it, and what, if any value it actually I had. I was an 'Internet Marketer', or at least I supported those that had the foresight to actually call themselves one and worked to market online. People would ask "So you do what online?" with a smirk on their face, while awkwardly winking - thinking I was more aligned with the seedy industries, instead of actually working legitimet companies and business owners.

Facebook changed that.

What people didn't understand was that there were ways you could get your message out, market directly to people, and sell your products through the internet. When the social network came along that masses started using, there was a glimpse of understanding on how this new thing we call 'the internet' might actually be an effective marketing platform and way to communicate with an audience, even, and more importantly, your specific targeted audience.

So many things have changed.

In the progression and development of Facebook and other social networks, you saw a huge increase in the number of CMS platforms (Wordpress, Joomla) developed to a point where they too were accessible and able to be updated online. Meaning that you could update pages on your website or online without a vast amount of programming language, if any, really I accredit My Space and Facebook to paving the way to make that thought plausible and mainstream, and leading the way for other developers.

People 'talk' different.

One thing I noticed in the movie, which really carries forward into my life, and probably yours is the words people used and way people talked to each other. "Facebook Me" - a common term you still might hear to this day. Why? Well it's like a phone number, or address - it's a platform that allows us to connect and communicate with each other in a large scale, with no associated costs involved (who needs a long distance plan when you can just chat).

Here's the excerpt directly from the Facebook site, describing the platform:
Founded in February 2004, Facebook is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people's real-world social connections. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment.

The way that people interact and connect has changed. The fact that one of the first things I did before I watched the movie was to update my status, and then after to check it out for any comments, is a tribute to how this phenomenon has impacted and changed the way I communicate with those around me.

It's a connection point.

The platform may change, in 5 years Facebook may not exist, Google may not exist, Twitter may not exist, there may be a new game player - but the fact remains that they way we are connecting with each other has now changed.

Look at it from an internet marketing perspective. Before 'the social stream' you relied primarily on email marketing, and a brochure website, there was no interactive element to it, videos weren't even really in the picture yet.

Email marketing was the primary way to communicate to people, now that email is so riddled with spam, we look to the stream. Now the stream is where people (marketers) want to be.

The problem is that there is just so much information to leverage, the question now becomes how do we leverage that.

The tools we use now are different. The way we connect has changed. Facebook is a primary player in how and why this huge change has taken effect.

And it all started in a dorm room.

Initially targeted for students in select school, quickly expanding to other schools, by the end of the first year, Facebook already had 1 million users signed up. Here is a time-line from their website:

  • February - Mark Zuckerberg and co-founders Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Eduardo Saverin launch Facebook from their Harvard dorm room
  • March - Facebook expands from Harvard to Stanford, Columbia and Yale
  • June - Facebook moves its base of operations to Palo Alto, Calif.
  • September - Groups application is added; the Wall is added as a Profile feature
  • December - Facebook reaches nearly 1 million active users
How it spread, really is one of the most fascinating things for me, as we're all trying to achieve this very viral effect in our marketing efforts.

Theirs was relatively simple. They started off with a product that their audience was ready for, and enhanced something they were already doing, combined some nifty technology, give people a reason to come back and limit who can access it. The idea of exclusivity was very interesting, as it makes those that are not a part of this, want in "the cool crowd". The elitists of Harvard, expanding into the majority of Ivy League schools, then opening up overseas, and eventually mainstream, gave them a chance to build an audience at each new frontier, so when they did expand more people were eagerly awaiting to be included.

The business, it all goes back to business.

My last comment is about the business itself and how that took shape. It certainly made me appreciate the fact that these guys, as young as they were, understood the roles and functions needed to get this start-up up and running. Designating titles, assigning tasks and shares - is that something the average person is taught in school or has an appreciation of? I noticed a gap in my own education and understanding, only recently filled in by years of running my own company and now working with other large and small corporations - this was not something I would have had the slightest inclination of after leaving high school - is there an opportunity there for more education given the movement of young people to pursue entrepreneurship? Absolutely!

Whatever it is, it's certainly impressive.

Whatever your thoughts are on the platform, you have to admit that their accomplishments are pretty darn impressive. From the first round of funding in 2004 of $500,000 from Peter Thiel, to breaking the 5 million user mark the following December (2005), to know where we sit at 500 million active users, the company employees over 1700 staff, and everything, including it's value, continues to grow.

Whether you use the platform of not, it's certainly impacted your life in one way or another, understanding what changed and why in my mind is vitally important. Thanks to this movie, 'The Social Network', I think more people will have the chance to understand the roots and if not anything else, inspire them to pursue their next big idea - who knows it could be the next game changer.

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