Tell Me, Tell Me

7 06 2012

It was about a year ago that I had lunch with one of my colleagues, Dr. Pradeep Racherla. After about an hour of bantering about social media, he sat back and asked the $64,000 question: “So, Dr. Gerlich, what do you think is next?”

I, too, sat back. I scratched my chin (I do that when I am nervous). My gaze shifted top-left. And with all the wisdom I could muster as a senior faculty member, I responded: “I don’t know.”

So much for experience.

The fact of the matter is, this is a question I am asked many times by students. And it is a very good question. But if I knew the answer, I would probably ditch this job and head to California to start a company.

It is also a question that has been dealt with in a slightly different way by one analysts asking whether Facebook will be in existence in 2020. His answer: No.

He went on to show how Yahoo has failed to evolve from a 1st-generation internet company to 2nd-gen (social media), and how Google has likewise stumbled at the same level (Google+ is its third…and hopefully last…attempt at social media). As for Facebook, he sees the 900-million-pound elephant in the living room as having no ability whatsoever to evolve into a 3rd-gen company, which is mobile.

And I don’t mean mobile apps, although that is a part of it. He argues convincingly that FB has failed miserably on the mobile graph, and I concur. Yes, FB has paid lip service to the fact that, while about one-half of all visits are via mobile devices, there are no ads placed for those moving eyeballs. But so far, nothing. It was three months ago that FB announced it would start placing ads on our phones and tablets, but they must be waiting for something more significant than just a near-perfect annular eclipse or Venus transit.

To say that Facebook has fallen flat since its 18th May debut is an understatement. I saw it coming, and refused to buy in. The revenue model is still very weak. And although they have increased the number of ads running down the right pane (there were once three ads, and now sometimes as many as eight), as well as ad placements along with our photos, they have allowed the mobile area to remain an ad-free zone.

It’s kind of like allowing patrons to eat for free at your restaurant. But the shareholders won’t tolerate such silliness for long.

So what will the future hold? The analyst thinks that Facebook’s inability to evolve is the crux of the matter, but I think that something bigger and better will come along that will cause us all to think, “Man, Facebook sure is lame. How did we live for so long with it?” Remember, innovations come along overnight in this business, as evidenced by FB’s purchase of Karma, which was only launched three months ago.

No, we are going to be amazed by something new. Something of which we haven’t the slightest inkling. Something that will conjure up that old saw about sliced bread.

Think about Yahoo. Consider the venerable software giant Microsoft. Heck, let’s go real old school and think about Kodak. Yahoo is well on its way to becoming an internet ghost town. Microsoft’s lunch is being eaten by Apple daily, and it has no horse in the social media race (unless you count its so.cl research project). And Kodak…well, let’s just say it was nice knowing you. Companies, like the seasons, change with regularity.

I really do wish I could have answered Dr. Racherla’s question, but he was drawing blanks as much as I that day. It is hard to envision a world without Facebook, but then again, we felt the same way about MySpace. It is hard to believe that the company was once purchased for $580 million by Murdoch in 2005, and then sold six years later for $35 million. These things happen. Facebook had a better product.

And someone else will, too, sometime between now and 2020. Just be ready to embrace it. And if you are really smart, you will be among the first to figure out how businesses can leverage it. That’s where the money is…knowing how to use the platform.

And maybe, just maybe, it will have an IPO worth buying into. Now keep your fingerprints off my crystal ball.

Dr “Future Perfect” Gerlich

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