Facebook’s Really, Wicked Big Challenge

Ahhhh, lets get all intimate and stuff.

Ahhhh, let's get all intimate and stuff.

Facebook’s biggest strength is also its greatest weakness.  And it can be summed up in one word:


Facebook is a place for personal connections.  People share photographs of their children.  They discuss vacations with friends.  They share funny links or a music video.  Most people know the people they befriend on Facebook.  That’s why most people average about 120 friends on Facebook.

As blogger Robert Scoble recently wrote: “Most of my friends on Facebook are there not to share industry or work news, but to push pictures of their kids or talk about their personal lives… but that’s why it’s horrid for having industry or work conversations. ”

It’s a compelling observation.  Other popular social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Digg.com or YouTube don’t have that living room like quality of Facebook.

The intimacy just isn’t there.

For example, LinkedIn is like your business Rolodex – a collection of clients, partners, co-workers, friends, associates and business connections.  And Twitter is like a gigantic cocktail party at an industry trade show where you can jump into all kinds of interesting conversations – or just listen.

And that’s why Facebook’s decision to buy social network FriendFeed is so interesting (for those unfamiliar with FriendFeed – think of Twitter on steroids).  FriendFeed is a geek haven – and popular with social media power users.  But it has failed to capture the attention of the mainstream.  It’s interface and real-time data flow are intimidating outside of most geek circles.

As CNET blogger Caroline McCarthy notes on The Social: “Basically, FriendFeed has been coasting on a lot of hype and not a lot of mainstream recognition, and it’s not a bit surprising that it would be seeking an exit at this point.”

But it’s a curious purchase for Facebook because of the intimacy challenge.  FriendFeed is like Twitter – it has that public forum quality to it.  Much more auditorium than living room.

So how will FriendFeed ultimately fit in with Facebook?

There’s little doubt that Facebook wants to move beyond the “connecting friends and family” and become a powerhouse communications network.  It’s future and ability to make money will lie with attracting businesses to the platform.  It likes FriendFeed’s technology and real-time data flow (and FriendFeed’s marvelous search and commenting features).

The real challenge – the really, wicked big challenge – for Facebook will be if it can convince its users give up the intimacy they now enjoy and open up their profiles to outsiders.

In other words, will Facebook’s users want to make Facebook into an open, public forum?  If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times that most Facebook users only want to use it to connect with friends and family.  For the most part, it’s their personal social network.  Most aren’t interested in having business associates and clients perusing their family photographs or having access or insight into their quirky hobbies and opinions or meet their crazy circle of friends (even with all the privacy settings).

How Facebook deals with intimacy will ultimately determine the fate of the company – much more so than the assets they just acquired from FriendFeed.

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