First, Facebook has the potential to win a bigger chunk of the global advertising market. According to FB, brands spend about $600B on advertising per year. Global advertising spend is a slow-growth business; according to ZenithOptimedia ad spend will grow 4.8% from 2011 to 2012, which is roughly in-line with global GDP growth. Since the overall pie isn’t growing, FB needs to win ad spend from other areas, like television, radio and print. Will they be able do this? Hell yes. People are spending an increasing amount of time on Facebook, at the expense of other media. (Remember, the hours in day are static so time spent on FB equates to less time spent elsewhere.) And what is everyone doing during this time? They are watching videos, reading articles and listening to music. So without even factoring in that FB campaigns are extremely effective, FB will have no problem growing its advertising revenue.
The second opportunity is best described with a riddle: What is the only thing on the web that is unique and ubiquitous? Give up? It is your Facebook page. If you’re like me, you have three active email accounts and two phone numbers. But you only have one Facebook page. Thus, developers building social products have no choice but to integrate with Facebook.
I found this out the hard way. When we first designed Spottah, which is currently being reviewed by Apple, we decided not to use Facebook Connect. We thought integrating with Facebook would diminish our value proposition of sharing photos among only close friends and family. So we decided to connect by email or phone; after all, close friends would know your email address. We pushed a beta. It was a disaster. No one knew which email address their friend signed up with. For example, I’m registered using my @spottah.com account but everyone was trying to connect with my @gmail.com account. We looked at our sharing process and realized we needed a purely unique identifier. It became immediately obvious that Facebook has a monopoly on unique identifiers and that we would have to integrate Connect.
To my knowledge, Facebook has no plans to directly monetize Connect and Open Graph. The goal is to create an ecosystem in which independent developers create great apps that increase the value of both companies. While this makes sense, I could also see a world in which Facebook charges a small amount for Connect and Open Graph. As a developer, I would pay for this. When we started Spottah, I did not think twice about whipping out my credit card to buy computing power from Amazon, analytics from Mixpanel, and smarter email from MailChimp. But all of these are worthless without customers, which Facebook provides. Yet, customers acquired from Facebook are free.
The idea of Facebook charging developers is controversial. Many would point to Microsoft as a parallel example. Microsoft never charged its independent developers. A strong supply of programs designed for Windows meant more sales of Windows. This in turn increased the demand for PCs, which Microsoft capitalized on by grabbing the largest chunk of value chain.
Microsoft and Facebook are not parallel examples, however. Microsoft had greater control. For Microsoft, the better the ecosystem the greater the sales of PCs. Plain and simple. Facebook, on the other hand, does not have as great of control. Instagram is the perfect example. Facebook enabled Instagram’s rapid growth by improving connections and spreading the word via Newsfeed postings. In the end, Instagram became so compelling that people were visiting Instagram before Facebook, and also spending more time on the app. Realizing this, Facebook bought Instagram, proving that Instagram captured the lion’s share of the value.
Instagram will not be the last company to capture a greater portion of the value than Facebook. The key for Facebook will be designing a structure in which they foster independent development but are also able to capture their share of the value created.