With the movie “The Social Network” winning big at the Golden Globe Award maybe it’s a good time to  look at the current landscape in the industry one of the glamor children is without question, Facebook. It’s easy to look at Facebook and see the appeal.  For starters they have 500 million users.   It allows you to connect with people from your past life and your present life. It has the ease of use thing down so any person logging on to the internet can quickly get on to start benefiting from the experience.  Finally it’s fun.  But as always in technology there are bigger things at stake.  Underneath it all is a booming business and an opportunity to define the future of technology.   It has, as I have called it, the velocity of business.  With each wave they come bigger and faster.  We started with Microsoft.  Then Google.  Now we enter the Facebook era.

Like any great business in the technology sector it starts young.  Usually around the college age.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sounds like a Bill Gates clone.  Teenage computer wiz, goes to Harvard, drops out, makes his first billion.  It’s a pretty simple formula.  The thing that Facebook has so in common with Microsoft and Google is that in its early years, and Facebook is still there, the employees of Facebook are young.  If I joined Facebook (I am 44) I would probably double the average age of the company.  All great technology companies in the early days have that singular focus, from top to bottom.  They come in late and stay late.  They eat like crap.  They have no sense of fashion.  They do not have families to go home to,  They have but one mission, create the future of tomorrow.  Watch ant CNBC special, read any Facebook blog, you name it and you will see Facebook’s culture is exactly that.  Do not worry that these young kids will dominate the world for the next  twenty years, because in twenty years they will be middle-aged.

The great things about youth is it envisions a greater and brighter future for the world.That is part of being young, that desire and hunger to make a difference.  Facebook started simply as a way for Harvard Students to connect with one another and then it spread to other Universities.  As is so often said, big things start small.  Then the young guns started to think big.  We can bring people’s past to the present.  Beyond friends we can link companies, provide news, drive political discourse etc..Was there a successful campaign run in 2008 that did not leverage Facebook to some degree?  the fact that Barack Obama had this huge grass-roots movement started by the youth of America was instrumental in getting him elected and Facebook was a big part of that .  These things don’t happen by accident like people would like to think.  In the background is a small office in the Silicon Valley, that is young and thinking big and driving these changes in how society functions.

So why the fear by so many companies of Facebook?  Microsoft may be an investor in Facebook, but they worry. Google is terrified of Facebook.  One thing is mass.  Today depending in who and what day you listen to Facebook has between 500 million and 600 million subscribers.  A great many are active.  they spend time on Facebook and not just a few seconds to type in a search criteria but to share comments, to upload pictures, view others comments, to say the “like” a particular post, play games, etc..When people spend a lot of time at a particular location on the internet than the obvious question becomes “how do we monetize it?”  With Facebook it now has developers writing games for Facebook.  Facebook has its own instant message client.  Looking forward you can see search being a larger component of the user experience, I think this alone would keep Google executives awake at night.  the more developers writing applications for Facebook, the less time for Windows.  I would assume a lot of applications for Facebook would not reside on your desktop, but would sit out on the internet thus making Facebook a really great cloud computing platform and putting it in the early lead of consumer facing cloud based applications (as it currently stands today Facebook is a cloud based application).

Finally Facebook has taken advantage of current technology trends to extend its reach, specifically I am referring to mobility.  If you look at your Facebook posts today how many posts are coming from a mobile device?  As Apple launched a new era of mobile apps (yes there were application for mobile devices before but to find them and load them was painful and that is being kind), Facebook took full advantage.  Now you see posts coming from iPhones, Android Devices and Blackberry’s.  The beauty of mobility is freedom and Facebook seems to add nicely to that user experience.  Because in the end we want our lives, in particular our social lives to be care free.

Looking forward it is easy to project now that Facebook will be a major force, but as is so evident in technology things continue to change and things our changing faster than ever.  It took Microsoft twenty years to get to Windows 95.  It was a singular focus that drove that vision.  That kind of commitment, that type of time line is a thing of the past.  As  is evident with Google then with Facebook the internet gives rise to new power players in less than a decade.  It’s important to have a long-term  outlook in business but the question these days is how long do you look forward?  If you look too far out some company may pass you by before you get there.  For now the ball is in Facebook’s court, is there a young kid with an idea with a vision that will pass Facebook?  In all likelihood, based on what we know, the answer is yes.   With that enjoy I hope you enjoyed this post which many of you will access from…Facebook.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann,  January 17, 2011

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