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Wall Street Journal Analyzes Facebook's Coolness Factor

The Wall Street Journal's reporting that Facebook's in acquisition talks with Yahoo! This isn't the first time there's been such speculation.

The WSJ repeats a familiar line when describing Facebook in its subhead: "Youthful Audience Is Fickle." The article goes on to say "As the Internet has sped up the life cycle of success and failure, it is possible some of these sites will flame out as their young devotees flock to the next thing."

The media has displayed an attitude that "the youth" (though in Facebook's case, they've got alumni in their mid-twenties using it religiously) use social networking sites because they're cool, just as they might choose to go to a trendy night club because it's the "in" thing this week. They seem to forget that it delivers a clear value to users: the ability to keep in touch with real-life friends. For recent grads, Facebook is an alumni directory on steroids. For current students, it's like a school newspaper that comes out hourly with photos from every party on campus.

If Facebook is a fad, perhaps every media outlet targeting youth is too. But MTV had relevance for over a decade with this fickle audience, and has only recently lost ground. AOL Instant Messenger, despite a much slower pace of innovation than Facebook, has held on to a young audience in America for over a decade too. CollegeHumor has been a profitable site for years. And unlike most of these properties, Facebook has the potential to continue to deliver value as its userbase ages.

If history's a guide, Facebook has its best years to come. The media outlets speculating on Facebook's future should worry more about how fickle their own audience is.

Posted by Greg Galant on Sep 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

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There's a problem with the MTV comparison, though. Back in the 80s, it's not like any kid with two-bit hacking skills could make an MTV clone -- with the same reach as MTV -- over a long weekend.

But I think you're right that the "youthful audience is fickle" line is overused. The Friendster debacle is often cited as evidence of this, but that site had serious scaling issues. Abandoning a network because each pageload takes 2 minutes isn't fickle behavior.

I think the real key to creating strong lock-in in the social networking space is to manage the interaction between two distinct parties, e.g. eBay (buyers/sellers) and MySpace (bands/fans). Facebook hasn't managed to do this, so they're relying on exclusivity/coolness to keep people on board. But now that growth has slowed and they're planning on opening it up to the world, it might make sense for them to cash out. Then again, a new school year's starting up...

Great show, Greg. I've been really enjoying your interviews.

Posted by: Altay at September 22, 2006 11:01 AM

I agree that Facebook has much more than the coolness factor. I am a sophomore at Washington University, and I remember facebook when it first came out. It definitely allows you to feel more connected with your friends and up to date with their lives. In high school, I always was one to have more friends than I needed. Facebook has provided a great way for me to continue many of those relationships.

Posted by: Michael Anders at October 25, 2006 8:39 PM

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