Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

The "new" Facebook and Product Management

August 20, 2008

As a part-time product manager (and a true fan of products, marketing and advertising in general) – I have to mention the phenomenon that is the “New” Facebook.  Quite frankly, I could give a crap.  Like almost any UI or system – we will adapt and the new users that come after us will not know the difference.  I have gone from Mosaic to Netscape to IE to Firefox – it’s all about change.  So who cares.  facebook_vs_comm

If you are product manager – you should.

There are two main factors which make this switch for Facebook so interesting:

1.) Facebook’s delivery model is similar to that of a SaaS

2.) Facebook presents an interesting collaboration model which allows customer’s voices to be heard (sort of)

Product Management in a SaaS model

Lets take the fist portion of this – SaaS (or Software as a Service).  The “Service” that Facebook provides here is simple – communication.  We can use this platform to communicate easily with people we know and to a certain extent – don’t know.  Applications are making it easy and fun to do things like track our movie and music tastes to posting photos and videos of our latest adventures – all on the same server. 

Which means that when Facebook wants to make a change it is instantaneous – they just post the change.  In traditional software – or non SaaS models (like ours) the change is more gradual and does not effect the entire customer base.  You post a patch or a hot fix – those people affected (or brave enough to try it) download it and the change is made.  Rarely, do you hit more than 20% of your users at a time.

The “New” Facebook was available to anyone by simply adding “new” into their URL like: http://www.NEW.facebook.com.  Although, most people didn’t know this – the changes were visible immediately.  All your friends, their updates, your updates, your applications – instantaneous.  Sweet.

As a product manager of a more traditional software environment I envy the SaaS model.  Deployment on a single platform has these added benefits:

  • Simple delivery model with a known platform
  • Coordinated testing with pre-defined groups (e.g. these users get the new Facebook while these other users get the old)
  • Instant feedback
  • Soft launch
  • Controlled roll-out

There are some other advantages to this type of model but I want to focus on a more important benefit that Facebook has when it comes to Product Management.  User feedback.

Like or not – you CAN NOT please everyone.  I can not repeat that enough.  However, without upgrades designed specifically to address user feedback your product can and will alienate your customer base.

If you search for the term “New Facebook” using the Facebook Search and you click on Groups you will find over 500 groups with that term in its name or description.  Dig through those results and you will find groups like these:

  • People against the New Facebook System (47,294 members)
  • The New Facebook Layout SUCKS! (9,188 members)
  • I HATE the New Facebook (3,683 members)
  • The New Facebook Sucks (2,113 members)
  • I hate the new facebook – change it back! (2,588 members)
  • i HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK (obviously group names are case sensitive) – (2,320 members)
  • The NEW Facebook SUCKKKKSS – Change it BACKKKK (2,233 members)

Managing Customer Feedback

When your customer base becomes contributors – the results are amazing.  These groups don’t mean that new Facebook sucks especially if you compare the size of these groups against the number of facebook users as a whole – more than 60 million active users as of the beginning of 2008 (source).

[As I write this – Facebook is down – hee hee]

However, what you do have is the best collection of user feedback that a Product Manager could ever ask for – without having to lift a finger.  They didn’t have to do anything. Nothing. Nada.

Just build the new software – put it out there so people could see/use it and wait.  Surely digging through the feedback is tough.  The “People against the New Facebook System” has over 1,700 wall posts and 55 Threaded discussions.  Mixed in this garbage of useless responses and posts like “Facebook sucks” and “Bring back the old Facebook” are some truly genuine criticisms like:

Jonathan M. Cajigas wroteon Aug 12, 2008 at 10:57 PM

Since I have no idea how to program anything but an alarm clock, I’m curious if anyone in this group with programming knowledge could comment on the feasibility of writing a Gresemonkey script or Firefox Add-On that would let Firefox users keep using the old Facebook, even after the eventual switch.

Robert Heller (Springfield, MA) replied to Jo’s post on Aug 6, 2008 at 11:16 AM

9) It seems to want a wider browser window. The old facebook fit on my 800 pixel wide browser window (yes, I have a 1024×768 pixel screen and no, I *DON’T* (and won’t) maximize my windows).
10) Seems to want flash player. I don’t have flash player installed and no I *DON’T* want to install flash player — I avoid sites that depend on flash player for navigation. Flash is seriously bad news as fas as I am concerned. If flash player becomes *required* for facebook, I am likely to quit facebook.

Jennifer Hale (Uni. Southampton) wrote on Aug 11, 2008 at 12:43 AM

Since the left hand navigation bar has gone, to get anywhere you have to go back to the home page and start again. I liked the fact that I could just jump from one page to another.
I will have to go back into the new Facebook (sighs and pulls face) just to find and list all the things that are now more awkward to use.
I liked the fact that the page was narrower before. It means you never had a problem viewing the page whatever resolution screen you had. The old Facebook just seemed cleaner and tidier to use. Yes some people’s profiles were so application filled that you couldn’t find the wall to send them a message, but that is their choice. I do have a few applications, but I always ensured that most of them were closed (minimised) or below my wall so people could access it easily.

My only criticism that I can see is that Facebook hasn’t made it public that it is listening to its customers.  I am sure that they have reasons but with all of this feedback (and some of it good) it would be interesting to see some interaction with Facebook Product Managers and/or developers.

Conclusion

The new application framework models (like SaaS) present some interesting benefits for Product Management and customer relations.  Additionally, the social media aspect of Product Management today is an improvement on old style customer relations.

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How long will your old marketing prowess last?

June 7, 2008

No doubt things are changing – the question is really has it changed?  Did you spend the last 4 (or more) years of your life studying a field that just did a complete flip?  What types of companies are looking for marketing “geniuses” whose college pedigree reads “Graduated 1995”?

I posted this on Twitter a few hours ago and I could not get it out of my head:

“If you are in marketing and you don’t use FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace and/or you don’t blog – get out. The field  will be passing you by soon”

There is still time (I think). When I see companies like the Undercurrent popping up it makes you wonder what value traditional marketing brings now a days.  Undercurrent is hiring “mavens” to spread messages with a virtual interview through a blog post asking you questions like “How would you spread a viral video”.

When I think about this I get scared.  Not because I don’t think that these types of things are cool (because I do) – but because there are a millions of marketing professionals out there who are going to lose their  jobs.

Remember door to door Encyclopedia Salesman (great book about that by Herman Miller – Death of a Salesman). Yeah – if your dad was one of those back in the early 80’s you know what I am about to ask – “Where is he now?”.  Replaced that’s where.

Tree falls in the woods…

How about the “Million Dollar Homepage” – do you remember that?  Here is the significance of that “experiment”- if you did not hear about this before it was posted on CNN, Time Magazine or any other mainstream media – it probably meant that you were already out of the picture.  This is the funny thing about where we are right now – there really will be an “in” and “out” crowd.  The reason this will happen is because there are information flows on the Internet that travel virally and if you aren’t near anyone that catches it (understands it)- you won’t even know it happened. In this case – a tree will fall in the woods and those near it will hear it and unless you talk to them you won’t know.

So when you think about the people that heard about the Million Dollar Homepage through non-traditional networks you begin to see where things are.  Those people have been entrenched in networks where information like this travels and they are essentially 2 years (plus) ahead of you – seriously.  This is how people like Michael Arrington has made his recognition – he is in the know – in an unfathomable way – point in case.

There was a great post today by Jeremiah Owyang which addressed where most corporations are on Social Media.  If you have not come to terms with what Social Media means and you have not come up with a plan to work that into your marketing plans than you better get a move on.  That 20 year old 1st year marketing college grad is suddenly looking a bit more attractive than you.

So for those that don’t have your bearings – here are some terms that your competition are going to be very familiar with shortly:

  • Viral Loop
  • Viral Networks
  • Double Viral Loops

There is still some time – if you hurry.  Good thing this is all documented and you understand the basics.  Good luck.

When technology changes rip out your bottom line

May 22, 2008

I was inspired by this great article in the only “paper” magazine that I subscribe to (Fast Company). The article is about the fall of AOL and how their tumble into obscurity was marred by general business mistakes which compounded with the eventual loss of the company’s largest revenue generator (dial-up).

I got a call about a month ago from my first tech employer (small ISP in Rhode Island called NetSense). The president of the company and I still remain in contact – he informed me that he was selling off his last PRI line (used to handle large amounts of dial-up customers). Lucky for him dial-up wasn’t his largest revenue generator (his hosting revenue is king).How will new communication channels effect existing channels?

I then started thinking about some of the other services that we use whose days may be numbered. I came up with one rather interesting service: cell phones.

As I have talked about before (here and here) communication is changing. Not only are the ways in which we communicate (Web, IM, E-mail, etc…) changing the channels in which we communicate are also changing (Blogs, Wiki’s, Facebook, Twitter etc…). I think about the ways in which I communicate with people. More and more of that communication is done digitally. I use IM and Twitter exclusively when I want to ask brief questions or touch more than one person at time.

Additionally, VOIP and software programs like Skype are making strong cases against traditional cell phones. Remember the tustle between Apple and Cisco – it was essentially over “who owned the connection”. Once cell phones started adding Wifi and services like Skype became more and more reliable – a traditional “phone number” and the services that companies like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon offer are becoming less valuable.

What I see happening is you will no longer need to “call” someone or send someone an “e-mail” you will simply say to your device (which will be tethered to the Internet) I want to communicate with Ron. Wherever I am and whatever services I have available (Skype, Twitter, IM etc…) we will be connected. I don’t see anyone needing a single number (except for the people that only have cell phones). Our children will be connected in ways we can only imagine and it won’t be with a phone number.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my cell phone and right now I use it for a lot of my communication. What the article made me think about was this:

If you are a cell phone company today (or an investor in a cell phone company) what you should be doing is learning from AOL’s mistakes and should begin planning for the day when they begin to lose subscribers. Are they going to use their channels to deliver new services so they can keep their subscribers or are people going to be sick of paying $45 for a phone and $50 for connectivity services when they would only really need the $50 service fee to have connectivity for their communication applications.

Why Facebook has a $1billion dollar valuation

March 12, 2008

I know it is scary to think about this but I believe that the potential for an application like Facebook is larger than advertising.  Think of it this way:

1.) 34+ million users (in best Dr. Evil impression) – yeah the statistics will tell you that the site growth is capping off and that only a percentage of those users actually log in – but they still “touch” a ton of people.

2.) Communication is changing on the web (talked about this before).  Thing about it is, no one really knows where it is all going.  Clearly E-Mail is not going to be the main channel for all communications 10 years from now.

3.) People are getting tired of all the applications out there – there has to be a shakedown.  Companies that are in endless beta will eventually give up.  Since all they want is Facebook fame not truly affecting the flow of information.

4.) Facebook has something that no one else has – the API.  Call it silly – call it dumb – say it will never support business to business – but don’t deny the fact that there is something tangible here.  Slide – the company behind a few of the most popular Facebook applications (which coincidently did not exist before Facebook) just secured 50 million dollars in funding (yes – in my best Dr. Evil impression).  Even with a horrible burn rate of 5 million dollars a year, you are still looking at 10 years of comfortable opportunity.

5.) The web is changing and so is communication.  Teens and college age users are done with E-mail.  They use IM, Twitter, SMS etc… to keep up with everyone and they are huge on ‘networking’.  Go find a teenager that doesn’t have 100+ contacts in their list.  In the past those types of contact lists were reserved for Stock Brokers and Insurance Salesman.  There is a real network growing here and kids are learning how to connect quicker then ever.

So where does that leave us:

Doing nearly everything on Facebook.  Think of this as your “portal” to the rest of the world and anyone that you give two hoots about.  I am not a kool-aid drinker here but there are some astounding opportunities for this site which not a lot of people are aware of.

Take some common tasks:

– Buying music – with iLike I can not only keep tabs on all my favorite artists, with my network of people I can see what else is out there.  If trust you to be in my network, I probably trust you to recommend some music.  With everything from concert updates to record releases (and links to shopping) you can do it all – without having to leave Facebook.

– Renting movies – my Blockbuster online account is now integrated with Facebook.  I can actually add movies to my queue from Facebook without ever leaving the site.  On top of that, I get recommendations from my friends…

Ok, let’s stop there!

Take Blockbuster for example.  Let’s look at what they have done.  Instead of building their own social networking architecture (Friends, Comments, Ratings, Recommendations etc…) they just tie into Facebooks framework.  Cut development time in half.  Cut maintenance time in half, and to top it all off, they don’t have to go and find a marketing channel.  When I logged into Blockbuster they popped up a window “Hey, do you have an account with Facebook – we integrate …”.  On top of that – they can send broad messages to Facebook informing people that the service is there.  Why would Blockbuster want to compete??  Search for Netflix – they have done the same thing.  Why not?

I could go on with all of the general actions you take on a daily basis which require recommendation – buying a car, getting a loan, renting a house etc… Why not connect with other people.  Thinking about moving, look in your friends networks, anyone live in an area that you are interested in – connect with them.  Find out what the housing market is like, the places to look and the places to stay away from.  Six degrees of separation times 10 (or like 100).

Want proof: “Facebook Taps Blood Donor

That same story has certainly come out of Forums and other web based communication channels but that was in the past.  This is the now.  You might be asking me to tip my cup back down and stop or I will get a head rush.  You may be right.  But I don’t think you can deny the potential.

Is it really that bad that you would log into Facebook every day – at least once?  I haven’t even mentioned things like dating, sharing photos, having fun…