I interview a lot of candidates for Product Management positions. One of the topics I touch on during interviews is branding - do prospective product managers understand the impact a brand can have on their product, their customers' perception of the product, and the value created from the product. I usually asked for examples of brands that create value and brands that destroy value.
Being a product manager of web-based, software-as-a-service products means I keep my eye on industry trends. And one trend I've watched with interest is Facebook. Facebook appeared on my radar in mid-2006 when an external partner talked about them being a competitor to LinkedIn. At the time you could only sign up if you had an email address from a college or university. They've since grown and have been reported on every hour by every media entity ten times over. They are the biggest thing since The Beatles. Or so I read.
Putting aside the quality of their product offering, I believe they have made a big mistake with Beacon. Beacon is their offering which allows third-parties to publish messages to a user's Facebook profile, providing the user the ability to opt-out of the notification. That's right. Let me say that again. Users have to opt-out from telling their entire network what action they just performed on a third-party website.
The Internet community "revolted" when businesses automatically signed up users to their marketing email lists, claiming "well they can opt-out.". It didn't take long for businesses to realize the PR damage they were causing themselves and reverse course, now having users opt-in in a non-intrusive manner.
When I buy something online, I really don't want to take an additional step to opt-out of telling my entire Facebook network what I just did. If I want to tell them, I can tell them (I can do that today). I understand the benefit third-party websites believe they will get... but are they willing to create friction and privacy concerns for a marketing play? Didn't that fail already with email?
As for Social Ads, I just don't buy that Facebook users are using Facebook as a medium for commerce or commerce research. Until they have the ability to send someone a real drink through the Internet, that is.
And why the hype on Facebook when they have yet to turn a profit, yet to acquire half the accounts of MySpace, and still not even close to Yahoo on total page views. Haven't I seen this episode before? Bubble 2.0 anyone?
And finally, I just don't get Facebook as a product. Tried it for a couple of months. Zero value to me. I get much more value from email, RSS readers, blogs, others' photo sites, etc than I did from Facebook. I suppose Facebook is interesting to those that are new to the Internet and unfamiliar with existing tools that do a better job (which is what I believe propelled the growth of MySpace), and certainly there is a market for that. But not at the level it is getting press.
Oh yeah... I just disabled my Facebook account.