Issue: Facebook opens gates to all users
Commentary by: David
What exactly is Web 2.0? For those of you who have been professional marketers for over a decade, it may sound like ‘convergence’ or ‘customer-centric marketing’ – the catchphrases of another generation. It offers the mystical allure of deeper relationships between consumers and brands and communities of interest where marketers and consumers collaborate to build brands.
For the record – here is the Wikipedia definition of ‘Web 2.0′
Web 2.0 is a phrase coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004 to refer to a supposed second-generation of Internet-based services that let people collaborate and share information online in new ways â€” such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies. O’Reilly Media, in collaboration with MediaLive International, used the phrase as a title for a series of conferences and since then it has become a popular, though ill-defined and often criticized, buzzword amongst the technical and marketing communities.
As ill-defined as it is, there have been two good ways to illustrate Web 2.0 to date. One is Wikipedia itself. It is a collaborative tool that web-addicted individuals update and edit for free and is (mostly) freely open to change by anyone. It functions like a free market in that definitions that are self-serving or strongly biased tend to be quickly changed by Wickipedia-watchers. The net result is a useful, up-to-date reference tool that rivals the depth of commercial encyclopedias.
It’s somewhat difficult for marketers to grasp the branding implications of Wikipedia, however, although wikis have a great deal of promise as collaborative tools.
For some time now, an easier way to illustrate the power of community in Web 2.0 has been Facebook.com. Like MySpace, Facebook is a social networking site. But unlike MySpace, Facebook is a gated community, closed to anyone who is not a college student (originally) or high school student (more recently). The power of this is not to be underestimated. The emerging metaphor for MySpace has been the playground – a good place to have fun (meet friends, learn about new music, trends, share stories) but also full of stalkers and dangerous people.
Facebook created a different community by closing the gates. Instead of attempting to connect strangers, Facebook created an easier way for people who would likely come to know another (in the same school) could interact. In doing so it reinvented the college social experience. Life and interactions on Facebook influenced real-world experiences and the physical space of college life and the online space of Facebook life meshed seamlessly in a way that is difficult for pre-2005 graduates to understand.
What was the marketing implication of Facebook? The opportunity for brands to find their most fanatic supporters, learn from them and allow these brand activists to ‘hijack’ or reshape the brand as Alex Wipperfurth describes. Facebook feels safer than MySpace because it is a closed community. For the same reason, it has been harder for marketers to understand and to penetrate. But the promise has been there and this advertising blog feels that it has been the best of all the Web 2.0 business models to point to.
We were very disappointed, then, when Facebook announced yesterday that beginning next month the site would open up to non-education e-mail addresses, effectively making it no more exclusive than MySpace. Why is Facebook doing this? Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskovitz are clever enough to understand that exclusivity is what has separated Facebook from MySpace and given it ownership of the coveted college demographic.
The answer is simple – Facebook is up for sale and a broadening of the audience might raise the price. It also allows potential acquirers to dream of extending the facebook model to new audiences, line-extending so to speak.
Our thoughts on this mirror our thoughts on the majority of line extensions. It will dilute the brand and hurt the business model. More importantly this new development threatens to rob us of the one simple example we can use to explain Web 2.0.