Will Facebook Ever Hit 2 Billion Users?

I just read Jason Hesse’s recent article on the falling stock price of Facebook. It makes some good points and generally I agree with it’s conclusions around the execution of the IPO and possibly today’s valuation. The multiples on revenue were after all, many times that of Google at IPO, for example.

Some of the other conclusions around future growth, I feel hold less water. Jason states:

“More than 900 million people is enormous, but could the company realistically double its monthly users? Anecdotal evidence would suggest not. ” …. “Naturally, the company’s growth could come from new sign ups. Facebook’s largest market is Europe, with more than 230 million users. This means more than one in four people in Europe are signed up to and use the social network. So realistically, there is little scope for this to grow significantly – if you’re not on Facebook already, the chances are you just don’t care and won’t join anytime soon.”

I don’t think I agree with this statement. Why won’t people care any time soon? I consider Facebook and social networking as a part of our lives, to be similar to the take up of email and other new technology, like the web itself. Even my Dad has a profile now, although admittedly for a 75 year old he is pretty well connected with PC’s, tablets and Android phones!

I also can’t help feel the sentiment of this statement is similar to the naysayers of the web 10 yrs ago; I would conclude social networking is following a very similar growth path.

With 1.5+ billion people on the regular internet but with 5 billion mobile subscribers, who are all fast moving to Smartphones with internet, the numbers also don’t support this statement.

And why would more than 1 in 4 people in Europe not want to join Facebook?

It’s taken just two years for Facebook to nearly double it’s user base.

The real issue IMHO is not that Facebook will stop growing because people don’t want to be on a social network and embrace the sweeping social change which those services is causing, but whether Facebook can maintain and evolve a service which captures that growth.

Given that a lot of the growth will be users who access the service by mobile, this is the second issue which faces Facebook (no pun intended). Can a service routed online historically successfully transform it self to become the stalwart of the mobile world?

In summary then the -in my view inevitable- growth of users numbers in Facebook is theirs to screw. They must:

1) Continue to innovate their product and maintain existing users attention
2) Navigate the cultural preferences of the untapped developing markets
3) Become a truly mobile orientated company, with the same level of UI/Ux on mobile as they demonstrate online.

Arguably they are currently failing at no.3

Finally, there is the spectre of “Privacy”. Jason says:

“If anything, as privacy concerns continue to grow, more people will leave the social network.”

I think this is also unlikely UNLESS Facebook makes a very serious faux pas. Radical transparency is not for everyone but there is good evidence to suggest the trend is in that direction. I can’t help feel this argument, that social networking has a limited growth due to privacy fears, is akin to the talk about e-commerce never taking off online for the mass market because of fears of credit cards not being secure online. In other words, it’s a red herring.

Compuserve was my first ever email address back in the mid to late 1990’s. It then slowly died over a period of years, as destination closed wall portals were trumped by the world wide web. Facebook, if it doesn’t continue to aggressively become more open, may risk it’s position as the ultimate social graph and silo of social data. (BTW, that little button in the top bar,  a globe with two striped lines, took you out onto the ‘scary’ WWW)

Facebook must get it’s future strategy right and that strategy must be around becoming more a platform and less a destination site, if it wants to maintain it’s position as the biggest silo of social data on the web. If it doesn’t do this fast enough, it will likely go the way of AOL and Compuserve before it, or be out manoeuvred by a future more open and yet to exist mobile competitor.

A New Type of Tech Blog

The infamous wordsmith Milo Yiannopoulous has invited me to contribute a column to his new digital publication The Kernel.

Aside from it sporting an excellent name @Nero is intending his new venture to raise the game in Europe amongst the blogs and online publications covering the digital entrepreneurship sector.

My first column is a self flagellation on being too-early-to-market. Titled “Timing Is Everything” it is a brief cronical of two fairly visionary ideas, ultimately neither of which I executed on successfully.

The responsibility of course remains entirely mine for these failures. While mitigating circumstances certainly apply (for example, building forward thinking free-to-use direct-to-consumer services in Europe is almost impossible) the one who steers the ship is still responsible for it sinking in a storm.

You can read more here or if you’ve had enough of me already I highly recommend the other contributors, all of whom have made excellent launch contributions.

Five Great Reasons To Attend MLOVE 2011

As if the onslaught of social media, real time feeds and micro blogging is not enough distraction, there is an ever growing list of events trying to grab our attention these days. So why should you invest the time and money in coming to MLOVE 2011? (Disclosure: I’m an advisor to MLOVE)

*** MLOVE starts evening June 22nd 2011 continuing to Friday/Saturday. You can still grab a last second ticket here -use my code “MLOVE-VIP11-Andrew” ***

  • Mobile IS the Internet, it’s the future of us all. In 10 years, we’ll scarcely remember the days of tapping at our desktop or laptop PC. Our desktop PC –in fact our only PC – will be in our pockets
    .
  • MLOVE was created to inspire you to approach your business, and ultimately the world around you, with a different perspective. At MLOVE we strive to be more engaging and create value for you through interaction and involvement
  • MLOVE is held in a trusted environment where people can relax and speak candidly, in order to build real world off-line friendships to benefit your life and your business ambition
    .
  • MLOVE aims to deliver the power, inspiration and education of TED with the irreverence, trust and freedom of expression, embodied by the famous Burning Man festival ..but with less dust
    .
  • MLOVE will take you out of a regular hotel conference environment and put you in a 100 year old German Schloss, alongside peers who are guaranteed to educate and entertain you.

The MLOVE society is resolved to build on the success of MLOVE 2010 with a second Confestival in Europe which kicks off in just 36 hours and you can still grab a last ticket now!

Meanwhile, there will be MLOVE Camps throughout 2011; MLOVE Barcelona Camp was held in February 2011 after Mobile World Congress and further Camps in London and San Francisco are pencilled in for the Summer and Fall and conferences outside of Germany during 2012: help us.

MLOVE Team Barcelona Camp 2010

Harald (MLOVE Founder), attendees and MLOVE advisors at the Barcelona MLOVE Camp 2010. More camps coming: make sure you're there!

Was the eG8 Forum a waste of time & resources?

Before the eG8 Forum even kicked off, I was actually frustrated that so many people were criticising, or even choosing to boycott, the event claiming that it was “a farce”. They said it was simply a white-wash and platform to promote anti-freedom of internet policies.

Those who have this view about eG8 (and argue instead for the relatively unfettered nature of the internet to continue) should be less naive about how one can affect change.

If you disagree, you shouldn’t hide or run away from the fight. That’s not going to help your cause.

What ever you think of his views on copyright, IP and internet control, President Sarkzoy should with out question be congratulated for organising eG8 Forum.

Credit should be given to the French Government for doing a reasonable job of the actual event. A glance at the “Making of eG8” video on Europe reminds us the logistically effort and cost involved; and even the wifi worked pretty well -aside from an occasional hiccup.

I believe this event was vital and needed. The only surprising thing is that someone from the internet side of the argument had not tried to organise it already.

Who attended?

Peter Sullivan, a semi-retired publishing magnate from South Africa, said that he’d first been invited when the eG8 was slated to be just 150 people. Now that would have been a mistake on the part of the organisers.

Allegedly, Maurice Lévy said it should be a much larger event, drawing together a wider array of attendees. Thankfully, it thus grew many time larger (and I got an invite!).

A stellar cast was complimented by an smorkers board of politians, activists and digital entrepenuers. Not all were internet titans either, some attendees being on their first start-up.

Whether by accident or not, this was a stroke of brilliance. The conversations in the corridors and in the sun drenched garden outside were varied and stimulating.

How was the conference content?

Perhaps inevitably, many of the panels despite (and possibly because of) being populated  by the leaders of large corporates, were rather pedestrian. Some contributors sounded more like they were reading a press release than engaging in debate.

Sometimes that was the fault of the organisers: i.e. you don’t get a debate if you have a panel with 5 people who all agree. On other occasions the pannelists were to blame.

I was wholly unimpressed with Sheryl Sangberg’s contribution. Being surely one of the top internet executives in the world, not just Silicon Valley, she gave packaged replies you could almost have read straight from Facebook marketing material.

“We are moving from information retrieval to social discovery” she said; and  “what is interesting for us…” was a repeated sentence.

I suppose I just hoped for much more from someone I’ve admired at a distance for some time. I had to leave before Mark Zuckerbergs conversation .

What was good, was it really a debate?

However some of the debates were excellent; the IP and Copyright discussions as the last panel on day 1 was almost literally on fire, most thanks to @JPBarlow who at the last moment was added to a panel of 5 media execs who all agree with Sarkozys clamp down on copyright theft. The addition was a moment of clarity from Spencer Reiss, one of the eG8 organizers.

“I extend my enduring gratitude to Spencer Reiss for embedding me like an IED in #eG8.” John commented afterwards.  I only wish more of the panels on day 1 had more IED’s in them. You can watch the whole of the IP/Copyright panel below, or skip to 28.5 minutes in to hear John’s brilliant rebutal of the media giant’s opinions.

Walking through the Paris streets at 3am between parties on the first evening, I couldn’t but be struck by John’s grounded and impassioned temperament. He is, if you didn’t know, one of the reasons for the success of the band The Grateful Dead ..read more here.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Another surprisingly inspiring speech was by Rupert Murdoch. I found myself agreeing every word he said – a new experience for me. He was empassoined about the need for change in the education system.

He described our failure to fundamentally revolutionize the way most students are taught in our schools as “a colossal failure of imagination” and that “we must begin by exciting the imagination of our young people … the key is not the device [e.g. mobile, tablet or laptop] … the key is the software”

+1 to that.

He described how if you wanted to teach 10 year olds about Benugi’s principle, then teaching that “speed is high, pressure is low .. is dry; but what if you can link this to a famous footballer’s goal, or to aviation? … we need personalise education .. as we’ve personalised our newsfeeds and social streams” he said.

Too true.

In an earlier debate, chaired by the charismatic character of Ben Verwaayen, Klaus Schwab (Founder and Executive Chairman World Economic Forum) said that “the delema between the old and the young will be pivotal … we have to co-operate together” and that  “internet is becoming part of our DNA”, talking of the future of the web.

Tom Glocer said “the notion of life long education, using the internet, will become a distinticve feature of society”.

Andrew Mason (Founder and CEO, Groupon) was there, talking about where his company was headed. “Groupon is becoming more about discovery, not just dicsounts” ..something I blogged about a few weeks ago.

Jimmy Wales was another speaker who rose above the average.  “..before there was never an encylopedia in Swahili, now they have one .. and there’s almost 30,00 entries” he said.

David Rowan (Wired UK’s Editor) was as ever well prepared and briefed, interlacing quick fire stats with questions to the pannelists at a fast pace. Commenting on the concept of inplants under the skin communicating with your mobile device to improve your health or report on problem he pointed out “there are issues with who gets access to this personal data” … that data rather makes  social web issues of releasing what movies I like or who’s photo I’ve commented on look entirely trivial.

It has certainly caused debate (just search for #eG8 on Twitter) and brought these issues to a audience.  Jeff Jarvis asked Sarkozy to promise to “Do no harm.” Sarkozy, at best, dodged the question. Jeff explains:

The workshops were, sadly, more akin to mini-panels and there was little air conditioning. I wondered whether it was hindering or accelerating the debating.

So, was it worthwhile?

With out question, the eG8 event was an important milestone in having important issues, which will affect everyone in the world, pushed up the political agenda.

Overall, much of course could be improved but I believe the eG8 is an event which should be held every year.

Aside from the obvious benefits of mixing younger entreprenuers with high level excutives and giving them access to those people in the same room (although some of the heavy hitters disappeared after their panels) the Internet is so game changing in every respect that major issue NEED to be voiced in a more pollicised setting and a rallying point each year could be the eG8.

I think it would be most foolish for the next G8 host –appropriately, the United States—not to grasp the opportunity to repeat the exercise with vigour. Keep the invite list large, keep it varied. It is the differences which have made, in my view, the eG8 very much worth doing and certainly I hope to be invited back to contribute again next year.

Meanwhile, why not sign the petition for keeping the net open and without overbearing government control? click here

Watch eG8

You can watch more from the event on the eG8 YouTube channel and on the eG8 website video section.

Old Europe to open new can of Internet worms at eG8 Summit

My Monday started well as I woke to discover that I’m “an Internet titan“, that is if you believe the Reuters pre-coverage of the eG8 event in Paris tomorrow.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, describes the event on the official eG8 website thus:

“The Internet’s multilateral dynamic, and the driving role that the private sector and civil society play in its development, have led me to invite the major stake- holders of this ecosystem to Paris, so that the meeting of Heads of State can benefit from their vision. The content of your exchanges will be conveyed to the Heads of State and governments of the G8. A new phenomenon requires a new method of consultation, one that recognizes the legitimacy and the responsibility of the actors concerned: hence the idea of this e-G8 Forum.” read more

I’m actually very excited to see how the event will be run and President Sarkozy should at least be given credit for pushing not only onto the G8 agenda, but for organising a consultation prior. The question is, what will transpire?

Previously the President has said:

“Regulating the Internet to correct its excesses and abuses that come about in the total absence of rules — this is a moral imperative!”

..said during a speech at the Vatican in 2010.

Big names speakers (who certainly do deserve the internet titan moniker) include Mark Z, Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos and Eric Schdmit alongside a bunch of smart attendees such as open data proponents like @novaspivack (his blog post on eg8 here)

As the blurb says, the aim is to build a consensus for the key issues are which should be discussed by the G8. The topics likely to dominate the agenda include copyright law, privacy and personal data.

Sarkozy has a poor record (depending on your point of view) in these areas, championing stricter controls. Everyone else (at least from the corporate world) is predictably pushing their own agenda – not based on what is best for the consumer but what furthers their own gain.

Traditional media are pushing for stricter controls – IP blocking, the confiscating of domain names, the right of government to “pull down” websites. These backward steps are a grave mistake.

Even if you agree that (e.g.) piracy sites or copy right infringers should have their websites curtailed, enabling a government (or any entity) to do so at will risks a slippery slope toward at best ever increasing controls and at worse outright censorship.

In fact the UK government has already enacted some of these laws and more of this ilk are on the horizon, such as the recent EU cookies law (there’s a great example here of what visiting a website adhering to the potential new guidelines might be like for you the user) it’s a nightmare in the making. @mikebutcher from Techcrunch Europe seemed very clean on his opinion on the cookie monster.

I concede the definition of “Fair use” as a concept against copyright theft or republication of content presents a raft of problems in itself for those wanting to (quite rightly) be paid for their work; but the very nature of influence and ambassador based endorsement of brands, content and companies via sharing on social media sites means this redistribution of digital content is inevitable.

The charming Tuileries Gardens in the centre of Paris where the eG8 is being held

Other measures recently introduced such as Sarkozy’s “3 strikes and you’re out policy” which cuts off the right to have internet access for repeat copyright offenders, just seem Dickensian. There are also bigger issues. Internet access is fast pervading every aspect of daily life. Not having access genuinely at best would already be inconvenient, at worst very seriously debilitating. “Then don’t break copyright laws” you may cry.

The young giants on the digital age such as Google and Facebook are pushing of course for less or no regulation; arguing everything from freedom of speech to a fundamental shift in the meaning of privacy and the way people share, want to share or should share (Mark is a particularly keen advocate of the latter for very obvious reasons).

I err on the side of these new corporate giants more so than those clinging to an ever more inaccurate perception of the online world. Their hopes of maintaining the status quo are just that: hope, as the reality on the web is already very different.

Ironically, I’m looking forward to meeting some European digital pioneers who I don’t know and many who are attending from the USA who I do.

Hopefully I can add something useful to the debate along the way too. If you have an opinion, please add it to the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, being in France I suppose the dress code will be predictably formal. I can either wear a suit and blend in, or buck the trend and hang out in my more usual jeans and shirt, the standard internet-entrepreneurial garb.

The one time I need a crowd-source “what to wear” app and there isn’t one.

See you in Paris.

Isn’t It Time Someone Re-Invented The Email Client?

Changes which don’t cause an uproar, tend not to be changes radical enough to represent a significant leap forward.

Back in 1977, when I was unable to walk or speak but had dribbling down to a fine art, Ken Olson the then President and Founder of DEC while discussing the looming inevitability of the “personal computer” famously said:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

This tends to be the way when you truly re-invent the wheel or change the status quo – people disagree with you.

Google re-invented web mail with an invite only GMail service in 2004. Dumping folders in favour of “labels” garnered fans and foes alike; but by 2007 when it switched to open signup, with 1GB storage to sweeten the deal, GMail had created true disciples.

GMail in very early form, being used inside Google. Note the 2001 copyright. GMail has thankfully evolved since this early "Supercalc meets dial-up BBS" birth.

For years I used Microsoft Outlook. Fond of it and despising it in equal measure, through corrupted .pst files (the proprietary format used to store Outlook data) and navigating the perils of discovering each email folder had a limit of 16,000 emails (or total .pst file size of only 2GB) I formed an akward alliance with this queen of email clients.

As MS Office 1995 grew, eventually to Office 11, I saw the bloatware nature of Outlook become intolerable. I’m sure if Microsoft simply focused on building a version of Office which was faster, simpler and easier (with no functionality “improvements”) I’m sure everyone would buy it. This approach was not to be and instead arrived a new “ribbon” UI, a longer load time and other needless paraphernalia, spurning me to finally divorce.

Outlook 95 (left) nice and simple, Outlook 11 (right). Essentially the basics are the same; maybe that's the problem? The simplicity of form cluttered by the ever spiraling expansion of function. Click to get a larger image.

I needed a better, speedier email client. The bottox pumped  lipstick laden Cougar that is Microsoft Outlook no longer had a place on my Windows 7 notepad PC. Plastic surgery, elegantly attempted by Xobni and others, was not going to fix this the aged Outlook dame.

After considerable searching (and disregarding the slimmer but equally middle-aged alternatives such as Opera and even Mac Mail, which I trialled while I experimented with a MacBook Pro for a few weeks) I spotted Miss Mozilla Thunderbird.

Poised elegantly at the metaphorical bar, she said that she was good but that her younger sister (Version 3.o) was even sexier and that we should meet. With Lookout style instant search and a host of other features, she seemed to be the girl of the moment. Popular, with plenty of developers providing add-ons and fashionable, being from the Mozilla family being open source and free, thus ideologically sound.

POP to IMAP

In truth I really gave Thunderbird a good go. We had multiple dates and after the conversion to IMAP from the .PST format went smoothly, we almost moved in together; but a few weeks in the romance started to falter.

I battled on for a while, but bugs in the search, the folder handling (and possibly an ill-advised switch to IMAP at the same time, because the cloud is the future, right?) meant our honeymoon period didn’t last.

Thunderbird, cute as she was, hung and was too slow. We divorced.

If In Doubt, Sleep With Her Cousin

I’ve since tried PostBox; Thunderbird’s supposedly more intelligent cousin. A streamlined offering based on the same software engine, I was initially impressed. I even splashed out and paid to hang out with her. Then a week or two in bugs appeared in an upgrade (and the disappearance of my 10 years of sent email, which she has refused to give back) has left me frustrated.

More about Postbox

There were also some other problems with managing local folders and the UI to do so, switching between local and remote email folders. Some of these were addressesed in recent updates with a combined inbox, but it is still slow and clunky. If an IMAP folder goes awry, the only solution is to redownload it from the server. Not trusting GMails IMAP implementation and label/folder botch, this isn’t ideal.

I probably need to throw some time at rebuilding some IMAP folders & bla to retrieve the lost email (I hope), and to give Postbox her due, the support from Postbox Inc was excellent; but IMAP syncing with GMail is slow, the software seems unresponsive with the 1000’s of emails I have. It just doesn’t “feel” quite right.

In Rolls The Cloud

The problems of Postbox found me resorting to web mail until I sorted the problems out. Having switched recently to using my GMail address and aggregating my accounts there, this meant I was forced to comes to terms with the GMail interface. In short, I’ve been turned… I think.

Filing into folders, even drag and dropping, suddenly seems work I shouldn’t need to do. Applying a label seems easier. Trusting that having everything lumped into labels and that I’ll be able to retrieve it through search, takes adjustment though.

The Biggest Problem With GMail

One can’t escape that cloud based computing has it’s problems. I’ve lost as many document through dodgy connections, weird browser querks or other issues, while editing in the cloud.  GMail has a good “real-time” interface when you’re on a fast connection, but there are problems when managing large amounts of data.

My data is my life!

Already, thanks to a Google Blackberry Software Sync querk, I have lost the last 2 years of meetings, scheduled events and travels, which were sitting in my Blackberry and on my Google Calender, until they synced and threw away everything prior to the last 3 months.

Twice, Google Contacts Sync has duplicated or crashed and lost contacts. Do people coding this stuff not realise these types of services have to be truly bullet proof?

The problem is I still want a local version of my email. I want to know it is mine, safe, “there”. I want to edit, rearrange and browse it when I’m not online. The GMail offline mode (incompatible with Gmail multiple login) doesn’t suffice and isn’t really a sufficiently robust solution.

Moving in to GMail

Transferring reliably IN to GMail is a massive headache. I have a 7 GB .PST of email, stretching back to the days of my Compuserve email address in 1998. This is my diary of life, my record of existance. Where I was, who I spoke to, what I did.

Google created Wave. Designed as an eventual replacement to email, combining IM, email and group chat into one in-line terribly clever platform, it was most likely just too early to market. Meanwhile, while we all cling to our love hate relationship with email, email clients have evolved woefully slowly.

Why No Better Email Clients?

Given the popularity of Gmail (and the amount of time we ALL spend doing our email) it therefore suprises me that no one has invented an appropriate IMAP based client to compliment the Gmail offering, or even simply re-envision an email client in general. Perhaps this goes against the concept of the web and cloud. Perhaps it is my old-school thinking rearing its head. Perhaps, which is possibly true, there at enough email clients established and entrenched, which do the job well enough.

The cloud -i.e. the internet- is awesome. It is the future of everything; but as with all powerful inventions it is subject to the inevitability of human error. GMail is not yet sufficiently robust – and nor is it designed – to suck up the previous 10 years of my email and give me an efficient way to manage and sort this in the new paradigm that is GMail. I’ve tried.

That leaves me with an archive and retrieval issue. I want all my historical email at my fingertips and I want it safely synced.

With IMAP proving a liability -and prohibitively slow with Googles servers and local clients- I’m back to having to set up a POP box which will download a copy of everything from my GMail and store it for later search. If I’m having to do that, there is something wrong with Gmail, the email clients, or both.

I wish someone would fix it, because at this rate I’m headed back to bed with the cougar.

STOP PRESS: Good overview of the evolution of email in an infographic over at this Mashable article about email