Social Is A Layer, Not A Destination

Includes: AAPL, AOL, GOOG
by: Leigh Drogen

Facebook is on a quest to be the entire internet for many people. I’m not kidding.

I will not recount my feelings about Facebook over the past few years now, you all know the progression of my attitude toward it as a platform and an investment. If you don’t, search the archives for Facebook.

I had dinner with someone from my industry a month or so ago, and he said something really interesting to me about Facebook. He said that Mark Zuckerberg didn’t understand the idea of the multi graph because he’s never had kids. My colleague went on to explain that Zuckerberg couldn’t understand that when you’re a mother, your life is very much separated into different spheres of people you interact with, and although there may be some overlap, they are distinctly separate. A mother doesn’t necessarily want to share pictures of her kids’ birthday party with the women she goes to yoga class with, and she doesn’t want to share deals on Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU) yoga pants with her children’s grandparents.

Zuckerberg got it wrong with the one graph, and he is now scrambling to understand the idea of many graphs. Facebook is attempting to institute parts of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Plus and Twitter, the circles feature and the following feature. They are doing it poorly and in every way it feels forced.

But the issues with Facebook go far deeper than not understanding the many graphs story. Facebook is attempting to be THE place for social on the web. We can see this by the insistance on bringing onto the platform every different tool or piece of content that could be social, from file sharing, to video chat, to a music service, on and on.

Zuckerberg doesn’t understand that social is not a destination, it’s a layer, just as AOL was not the internet, it was a portal. While Facebook was the destination for social at one point a few years back, the whole internet is becoming social now. The social layer is being thrown over everything, and that’s amazing. Facebook is attempting to be your connection to social all over the web through Facebook Connect, making Facebook more sticky, but again, we come back to the graphs issue.

At each different service on the internet I want a different social graph to interact with, I don’t want one graph ported to each. And I certainly don’t want to be using all of those different services inside Facebook’s walled garden. Anything Facebook attempts to do outside of a simple social stream (which it fell behind on a few years ago already when Twitter took that mantle), is going to be worse than something else I can find on the web. The Google Plus video chat called Hangouts is far and away the best on the interent, far better than Skype, which Facebook is teaming up with. Facebook’s file sharing thing, whatever it’s gonna be, won’t measure up to DropBox or Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iCloud, or the company that may completely destroy DropBox, which is Bitcasa.

My point is that Zuckerberg is attempting to build a Roman Empire of social, and he has stretched his army out way too far. It will take time, just as it took time for AOL to die (hell they are still around), but Facebook will share the same fate. Facebook will slowly crumble from within as a new generation on the web realizes that social is a layer, not a destination. How long that takes is anyone’s guess; maybe it’s 3 years, maybe 5, 10, or maybe the pace of innovation will speed up so fast that in 2 years you will have zero reason to be on Facebook besides the original intended purpose, a social phone book.

However long it takes, I am certain Facebook will crumble from extending itself. All platforms die. Facebook is no different.