Slowly but surely, Facebook is becoming a one stop shop for practically everything.
From seeing what your friends are up to to following celebrities, looking at photos, watching videos, reading articles, creating events, messaging, advertising products, buying products, even playing games, Facebook does practically everything.
But, let’s set aside for a moment the knowing suspicion that Facebook won’t stop until it runs our entire lives, and observe that most of what it’s chosen to do, it’s done well.
Just look at Facebook video, which has quickly become a force to be reckoned with. Previously YouTube was the biggest player in that arena, and it was unimaginable someone could topple it. But YouTube’s success also had a lot to do with Facebook referrals, and the social network soon noticed this and began to capitalise on it. It gradually made YouTube links stand out less in the News Feed, to the point that they now consist of little more than a tiny thumbnail and a headline, and it rolled out a neatly executed native player. Thanks to algorithmic preference, Facebook videos get priority in the News Feed. And, thanks to the auto-play feature – which begins playing a video without sound within the News Feed – native videos easily draw attention, and traffic.
Once again (ignoring the aggression behind it), Facebook made the choice simple. If your audience is on Facebook, post the video natively and it will be seen. If it’s not, good luck getting people to notice that tiny YouTube thumbnail. Anti competitive or just hyper competitive? Either way Facebook has become the first video service to give YouTube a run for its money.
It’s also capitlising on how much publishers rely on Facebook, luring them in with a carrot, and following with them with a cage. Again, the company has realised the sheer amount of traffic their service generates for news services, and have decided to take advantage of it, all the while “improving the user experience”. “Instant Articles” is an ultimatum masquerading as an agreement with publishers, allowing them to post content directly to Facebook, making it look and feel native, improving load times, and intuitiveness for the user.
Lastly, it’s introducing a “Buy” button, a trend that’s swept social media networks over the past month. Facebook joins Pinterest, Instagram and Google entering the e-commerce fray, but it’s a second try for the social network. It attempted something similar in 2011, but users didn’t take to it. Now, however, as native video and Instant articles have shown, users are keen to do more than ever without leaving Facebook.
One can assume this won’t be the last new feature Facebook adds to its portfolio of functions, and along with the other products it owns (Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus), it’s sweeping more and more services under its ever growing umbrella. But how much is too much? And haven’t we seen this before?
Firstly let’s talk about why Facebook is choosing to do so much. Because. That’s the most business-y answer I can give you. It’s because becoming a big company means you can never stop growing. The nature of a company – especially in the tech sector – is that whatever trends are around, you jump on top of them.
Look at Google, and Microsoft. Two companies who are veterans in this field. Both began with specific products and use cases. But year after year, their scope expanded. Google began with search, then added ads, then video with YouTube, mobile with Android and enterprise software with Google Docs, Drive and more. Microsoft began with office software, then an operating system, then search, and now hardware.
But these companies have also stumbled as they have diversified their offerings. Microsoft is due for a renaissance after gravely misfiring following the revolution that was the iPhone. And Google – failing to act before Facebook arrived – recently had to kill off its social network Google+.
It’s hard to do everything. Just look at Yahoo and Aol. Two businesses that were insanely successful in the 90s, but have taken on so much today that few can verbalise what they do. For instance, let’s play a word association game. When I say “Yahoo”, what’s the first thing that comes to your head? Purple? And how about “Aol”? Maybe the film “You’ve Got Mail”?
Is it possible for Facebook to continue adding new services without diluting its brand and mission?
Why? Because the company has excelled at execution.
Yahoo’s gravest error was not necessarily the amount of services it added, but rather how they were incorporated into its core mission. In fact, as Google began rising and snatching up the market for search, Yahoo moved further and further away from its initial purpose, and instead ended up diversifying in too many conflicting directions.
According to Nicholas Carlson’s book “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo”, Yahoo’s product portfolio was a fragmented mess upon CEO Marissa Mayer’s arrival. Certain products had entirely separate online presences that didn’t link to Yahoo’s main page, and in fact weren’t even accessible from it. Each design and layout of web presences differed in some fundamental ways, disrupting consistency across the brand. And, the only thing that related them back to the company was that they were owned by Yahoo.
For many years, and still now, the company has struggled to establish a defined purpose that brings all its web properties together. A problem Facebook has never had, thanks to its CEO. While Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only person creating new features, – in fact according to this Business Insider article, he’s often the last to know they’re being added – he has instilled in the company’s culture a cohesive vision that guides staff in creating for the social network.
While at times it seems Facebook is attempting to satisfy every need we could ever have for its own gain, the features it does add generally make the experience better for users. Being able to see an item advertised, like it, and buy-it with a click makes a lot of sense. As does opening an article and not leaving the News Feed to read it, and seeing a video playing that’s showing something interesting, and being able to watch it without moving to another app, page or tab. Having all that in one place makes sense.
As Facebook inevitably begins to add features outside the scope of the News Feed, it will be interesting to observe how successfully it adheres to the purpose and clarity its brand currently represents. Or whether it will join the long line of companies that forgot what they do long ago.