For the first time since its very early years, Facebook is vulnerable. The Cambridge Analytica mess highlighted an important but oft-overlooked fact about Facebook’s business model. Facebook’s business is data, monetized through advertising, not community or social networking. Social networking and community are merely the means by which it gathers and aggregates data and delivers advertising.
This was easy enough to forget in the feature wars and fight for online social dominance, but the public now is generally far more aware than ever that if you aren’t paying, you are the product. It’s also now clear that Facebook’s business models skirt very close to violating consumer privacy, if not outright violations. When working as designed, by the way, not through some breach or hack into the system.
While Facebook has announced changes in the face of governmental scrutiny in the US and Europe following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, the response still seems pretty superficial. Lipservice, not customer service.
As a result, while I wouldn’t sign a death certificate for the platform any time soon, consumer trust in Facebook has seriously eroded, and it isn’t doing such a terrific job at getting it back. At least so far. I’m not sure they can. So many of the problems are built into the very infrastructure. This leaves an opening for competitors.
When asked by NY Mag whether a new platform could get a seat at the table, Dan McComas, former SVP of product at Reddit, said:
I think it’s absolutely possible, but it takes a couple of major factors. I think a start-up needs to think about the monetization and how it can work with the users instead of against the users. I think they need to figure out the right funding mechanisms and incentive structures that also work toward the users. I think they need to have the right product team in place to focus on users.”
Angel investor and entrepreneur Jason Calcanis has put some skin in the game, announcing via his newsletter this weekend a competition called the LAUNCH Open Book Challenge to find Facebook’s replacement. Seven winners will receive $100K investments from the LAUNCH Incubator. In his newsletter, he stated he is looking to fund a social network that is good for society, that will:
– Respect and protect consumer’s privacy
– Respect and protect our democracy from bad actors
– Respect and protect the truth, by stopping the spread of misinformation
– Not try and manipulate people by making them addicted to the service
– Protect freedom of speech, while curbing abuse (not easy!)”
If you’d like to follow along, or think you might like to enter, details are at openbookchallenge.com. The competition is open to existing projects as well as new ideas/paradigms, but ideas alone are not enough. The main criteria for selecting the semifinalists and the eventual winners will be ability to execute.
Reddit, Snapchat and perennial second place finisher Twitter are also in the hunt, but they may have too much baggage (and their own privacy violations) to prevail.
Something will succeed Facebook. It’s not a matter of IF, only of WHEN. Right now, WHEN feels a whole lot closer than it has before.