The Facebook Conglomerate’s Job to be Done

I was pretty down on Facebook for having spent $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp. My case was that they totally misunderstood the job they served in people’s lives: they thought they were about creating a public profile of yourself (a very mid-2000s concept where they battled with MySpace and Friendster and won). If you don’t remember, your profile was all of Facebook originally. There was no Timeline or News Feed.

For years they iterated on that concept, launching Facebook Timeline and more updates to be the place that people went to broadcast who they were.

But in reality, people probably used Facebook for two reasons in their own lives: to see other people’s photos and to keep in touch with friends. Facebook did that great in a 2005 era where everyone was on a desktop computer.

But mobile changed that, and Facebook missed the boat. The Facebook brand was already associated with broadcasting my profile to my friends. That’s why Instagram and WhatsApp won – they built a specialized tool that people associated with photo sharing and texting.

Facebook could never have bolted these features on and won out.

That’s why I was down on them: how long can they just acquire the newest “whim” at increasing prices to stay relevant. It’s been shown that we move on to the latest social craze every few years.

However, Ben Thompson proposes that Facebook will be a conglomerate, not a product:

To glom WhatsApp onto Facebook-the-product would be to throw away exactly what makes WhatsApp valuable to Facebook-the-company – that it’s not Facebook-the-product. It is better to think of Facebook-the-company as a conglomerate: Facebook-the-company builds, acquires, and manages multiple products that serve all the different segments of social. The largest and most well known product in their portfolio just happens to be called “Facebook” as well.

This makes a lot of sense. If they’re able to better serve the individual jobs people have in their lives by deconstructing Facebook and being ok with letting other brands like Instagram and WhatsApp live on, then they have a shot.

I can’t help but think that Facebook is stuck with their blinders on though. It happens with every company, when they start iterating on their product and not on the problem they are solving for their end users.

February 20, 2014