I recently listened to an interview (conducted by Nordic eCommerce Knowledge in Swedish) with Swedish “dot-com-profile” Johan Staël von Holstein and especially one thing he mentioned (approximately at the 1:38:00 mark) got me to think.
He talked about that facebook really isn’t much more than an advanced e-mail system (or chat system like IRC), and just like most people don’t care about which e-mail provider they or their friends use, people shouldn’t need to care about which “social networking” provider they or their friends use. Social networking should “just work” like e-mail or mobile phone calls. He means that it’s time to break facebook’s de facto monopoly (in the West at least) on social networking and push it from the edge of the Internet into the core.
Making social network into a “core service” of the Internet instead of an “edge application” isn’t as far fetched as it seems, because this has happened with many services before. E-mail and mobile phone calls, for example. Imagine if GMail or Hotmail users only could send e-mails to other GMail or Hotmail users or if people only could call people on their mobile phone who were using the same mobile operator as they did!
The fact that e-mail and especially mobile phone services has been “pushed into the core” and become something that just works is interesting, because it was not that long ago that people spoke enthusiastically to their friends and family about which mobile operator they used, why they had chosen it and how much they liked it! They almost sounded like a representative of the mobile operator who was trying to sell the service and they were often proud about the choice they have made! Today no one seems to care.
When people stopped caring about the mobile operators, they started to care about phones and tablets instead, but this is already becoming less common. Soon phones and tablets will suffer the same fate as the mobile operators. People won’t care any longer. People will speak proudly about something else instead. Perhaps which apps they use and why they use them.
Most products and services will suffer the same fate and the downhill process is usually initiated either when a type of product or service has become good enough or when the providers stop being innovative and only focus on adding and tweaking details or copying each other. Good examples of such products are flat screen tvs, cars, mobile phones, laptop computers, running shoes, burgers, soft and energy drinks, etc.
The only thing left for a provider of a mature product or service to do to attract customers and, once again, get them to talk proudly about the choices they have made is to focus on softer issues like image, style and “customer experience”. Perhaps that explains why Apple has launched the colourful c-version of the iPhone 5 and hired Angela Ahrendts from the the fashion company Burberry as their new head of retail and e-commerce?
So, if you really want to be successful – on the Internet or otherwise – and experience a steady growth instead of suffering the same fate as previous products and services, perhaps you should focus on developing core services and products from the start and then license them to others who can focus on tweaking details and competing with each other. That way you will win regardless of who of your licensees comes out on top!
And remember, when facebook issues a press release about hiring Lady Gaga as their new Chief Creativity Officer you know they are doomed 😉