I actually didn’t plan to write about Facebook any more. In my recent post I claimed that Facebook is not solving any real problem. My readers were kind enough to prove me wrong… Jason thought we were just too old, and Jose thought that the problem Facebook is solving is loneliness. This is a big one to solve and a very good point… I scratched my head trying to reconcile the disconnect: Facebook is obviously successful and some people think they cannot live without it (one of the commenters, Radha, tested his strength by not logging into the ‘book for few days—this is how addicting it is). So how come so many people love it and so many others cannot understand the buzz?

Then I stumbled upon a Forbes article by Daniel Lyons. He too was confused about the real need for Facebook, but one paragraph he has written caught my attention:

“It’s as if two very different tribes were trying to inhabit the same space. I sometimes get the creepy feeling that we oldsters are barging into some college party where we don’t belong and trying a little too hard to look like we’re having fun, like the sad middle-age guys in the movie Old School who attempt, pathetically, to recapture their college days. “

Connecting all the dots I finally got it. It is all about segmentation, or lack of it… Facebook was created by college students for other college students, and only on September 2006 did it become open to all Internet users: kids, students, young adults and adults. This was a major move for the site but it did not change the way the site was designed, the type of services it offered and the metaphors it used (we adults don’t super poke each other…)

Here is how Facebook should have done it (and please, please use this lesson for your business or product):

Mark- hey, I have a great idea: let’s open the site to everyone. People will love it, they all miss college!

Dustin- don’t you think we should talk with some adults and see what they want the site to be?

Mark- what a great idea. Let’s do just that. After all, we are moving away from a very segmented and homogeneous crowd to the heterogeneous crowd of the Internet.

army-facebook.jpgDustin- True. There are homemakers, high tech professionals, scientists, army men in Iraq and Afghanistan… each one would like the site to be different.

Mark- our platform is so flexible. We can interview 100 people from each segment and design a slightly different look & feel and different applications for each segment. When they sign in, they will get into the minibook environment designed for their profile. We can even allow the various tribes to mix, but we will treat them as separate tribes, living in one virtual land.

Dustin- Right. Just like dating sites. You wouldn’t try to mix Jdate with Adult Friend Finder crowds, wouldn’t you?

homemakerfacebook.jpgThis conversation, which apparently never happened, could have changed the way people like me are looking at Facebook. Yes, everyone’s looking for friends and want to stay in touch, but friend management at 20 is very different from friend management at 35. Just like ERP is different from a small company that will use Quickbooks and a large company that will have to use SAP.

The lessons are loud and clear:

  1. focus is great. I think Facebook’s initial focus on college students is exactly what drove its initial meteoric success.
  2. When you grow out of your segment, don’t try to average your product so everyone will like it—quite the opposite: try to create a mini version for as many segments as possible, so each user will feel that you created your product just for him…

Related Articles:

The problem Facebook does solve

85% of College Students use Facebook

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Murdoch: MySpace worries ‘misplaced': calls Facebook a phonebook

Is Facebook the next Netscape?

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