Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Where Facebook is Heading?

Recently there has been a lot of hyperbole around Facebook.  The acquisition or Instagram for $1 billion, the rumors of a Facebook phone and now the potential acquisition of Opera.  I predicted the IPO would be a bad investment and the recent news consolidates my feelings about a company that is running amok. Why would Facebook, a company that according to some can't even build a good mobile application, consider buying a browser?  At Technoracle, we are not analysts but once in a while like to express opinions on current trends.

An acquisition of Opera would not be very beneficial for either company, nor would it be of much use in generating revenue for Facebook.  Facebook is a platform and Opera users already use Facebook.  We seriously doubt it would mean every Opera user would instantly become a new Facebook user.  Even if they did, to what end?

We are not alone in these thoughts either.  Trip Chowdry writes

"Buying Opera will likely be another stupid acquisition, the previous one being Instagram," 

Trip Chowdhry is a managing director of equity research at Global Equities Research.  We differ on rationale slightly.  Trip notes that buying Opera would potentially narrow Facebooks's ecosystem, not expand it.    The one item that Facebook needs to desperately expand upon is revenue generation.  Some investors have launched lawsuits alleging alleges that the defendants (Zuckerberg et al) hid the company's weakened growth forecasts from investors prior to the acquisition.  Whether this is true or not, growing revenue is one thing that keeps Wall Street happy.

Rather than go out and acquire technology, Facebook needs to wrangle in revenue producing companies or monetize their current investments. The IPO is done, the war chest is full of money.   Now is the time to build the business model that ensures long term success.  Remember MySpace?  The public is fickle and Facebook is not infallible.  MySpace's fall from grace happened so quickly most bands don't even bother with it anymore.

The acquisition of Instagram is also causing head shaking.  Instagram, as many have noted, is not technically a large amount of work to recreate.  They do have a solid install base which could be a play for users yet I suspect that two developers could re-create the applications in a week.  Filters are not hard to build.  Sharing photographs is a feature already built in to most modern camera equipped phones today.

The current Facebook API's and mobile applications are basically wrappers around the website.  So what is the long term plan here?  Let's try and sum up what we see happening.

Is it possible that Facebook wants to enter the contextual, POS advertising market?  Imagine this scenario.  You are walking down the street and your Facebook phone buzzes.  It alerts you that one of your Facebook friends is 100 meters away.  A backend algorithm has deduced that both of you like Starbucks (tm) and it sets up a DM to your friend suggesting you meet at the starbucks adjacent to your corner for a quick beverage.  It also provides you with a code for a discount on Starbucks which is tracked and revenue shared back to Facebook.

This scenario could offer a white boxed customer loyalty program for many businesses.  Unlike the Groupon model where drastic discounts can cause issues, Facebook could potentially use a 4Square type model to build a new contextual advertising market place.

For this scenario,  you would need the following components:

1. Large social graph
2. A GPS enabled phone or mobile app that can use GPS data
3. Either a proper mobile app or an HTML5, location aware browser that can be used to display the data
4. A deeper understanding of consumer spending habits and impulse purchases
5. A way to share the memories or post photos

Is this where Facebook is heading?

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