Facebook会丢脸吗? / Will Facebook Lose Face?

Facebook会丢脸吗?

Facebook首次公开募股箭在弦上,一夜间将造就众多亿万富翁,身价陡增坐拥百万的人更不在少数。

祝他们马到成功!Facebook公司在短短8年里取得了惊人的业绩,无论是在技术和商业模式上的创新,还是作为触动全球的社会现象和商业案例,他们的成功都令人难以置信。

然而,在看到分析人士普遍看好Facebook,纷纷预测其未来必将持续“上扬”时,我却被这个前景一片美好的故事中的大破绽吓了一跳。

在我写这篇博客时,Facebook的用户有8.5亿人/月,预计到今年年底将达到10亿。相比之下,Twitter的用户大约是3.83亿,而Google+ 号称有9,000万注册用户。

据估计,Facebook有80%的用户都来自北美以外地区。这一数字常被用来证明Facebook征服世界的精准定位,但由于忽略了某些重要因素,这种观点不免过于肤浅,也缺乏说服力。

首先最明显的一点是,如果不包括中国,Facebook就不可能取得真正意义上的全球成功。另外还有两大Facebook并非社交网络“带头大哥”的市场鲜有提及:一个是俄罗斯,一个是越南。在这三个国家,本土社交网络占据了市场主导地位。

以中国为例,新浪微博的注册用户已达到3亿,其他社交网站——如人人、开心、朋友、QQ空间等,这几个网站的用户群也相当惊人。

Facebook如今八成用户来自北美以外的事实导致了一些误判,让人误以为一谈到社交网络,全世界消费者的兴趣和爱好都一模一样,而最初为美国消费者设计的网络也会对全世界各个角落的人产生同等的、长久的吸引力。但在我看来,这种假设最终将大错特错。

我们美国人,包括像我这样的媒体人,天生就有一种自大的倾向,因此在看待事物时就更容易出现盲点。

这是一种“皇帝女儿不愁嫁”的心态,和美国文化输出有关。事实上,我们造的东西有时太美国化了,忽略了消费者迅速变化的喜好、习惯、兴趣,以及世界其他地区的本土竞争对手。

全球化、网络消费爆炸、世界逐渐变小模糊了一个事实,即如今发表的新闻与三十年前相比,以本土新闻居多,国际新闻居次。

据麻省理工学院公共新闻中心主任Ethan Zuckerman说,美国发布的国际新闻还不足上世纪70年代的一半,英国四大日报的国际报道也比1979年减少了45%。更有甚者,根据他的研究,美国网民关注的新闻95%是国内新闻。

事实上,过去10年,美国、英国还有其它跨国媒体机构——通讯社、报纸、杂志——都面临着前所未有的经济压力和挑战。毫不奇怪,他们中的大多数都削减了新闻社等固定管理费用,也裁减了驻地记者等人员。与15年前相比,大部分国际新闻机构的海外分社和记者数量都大幅减少。

Facebook在短短8年内一举成名的现象可谓“好坏参半”,因为它带来一个不可回避的问题,即它的成功轨迹能否在中远期实现可持续发展。

如果答案还有赖于Facebook能否兑现征服世界的诺言,那请恕我站在怀疑者的一边。

纽约作家Lane Green Roberte最近在《智慧生活》杂志(Intelligent Life)上撰文说,“Facebook是在电话发明以来最大的社交现象。”

这种说法很有意思,但也许言之过早。1880年初,电话还是个新鲜物,在美国只有30,000个用户。而到了当年年底,这一数字就飙升至50,000。接下来的十年,美国家庭和办公室的电话装机总量达到了16万部。

一方面,130多年来我们目睹了电话技术在全世界的急速发展和演变。另一方面,它也代表着一种文化和政治上中立的技术和商业模式。

就像现在很多用户抱怨Facebook和Google+ 与日俱增的骚扰和隐私问题,当年很多观察家也对电话的普及不感兴趣。

例如1890年马克•吐温就在《波士顿环球》上发表了圣诞贺词:

我满怀热情地向全世界许下我的圣诞愿望,愿所有人,无论高低贵贱,无论贫富尊卑,无论爱恨,无论文明野蛮(地球上的每个兄弟),都将欢聚在永恒宁静的极乐世界。但发明电话的家伙除外。

可以想见,假如马克•吐温还活着,他会用马克•扎克伯格取代电话发明人来许愿的。

Will Facebook Lose Face?

Facebook’s impending IPO is set to make a number of overnight billionaires, and catapult many more into the ranks of millionaires.

More power to them. The company has been an incredible success story in its short 8-year history, in terms of technological and business model innovation, as well as a social phenomenon reaching many parts of the globe, and as a business story.

Still, as I read the analysts’ generally bullish forecasts about the prospects of a continued “upward ho” for Facebook, I am struck by a few important disconnects in this rosy portrayal of the likely future story.

As of this writing, Facebook has some 850 million monthly users, a figure which is forecast to reach 1 billion later this year. By comparison, Twitter has about 383 million users, and Google+ claims some 90 million registrants.

It is estimated that about 80% of Facebook users are outside of North America. This figure is often used to support the assertion that Facebook is well positioned to conquer the world; but this is a superficial and unconvincing view which overlooks some important factors.

First, and most obvious, is the fact that Facebook cannot be a truly global success story without China. Less frequently cited are two other major markets where Facebook is not the lead player in social networking: Russia, and Vietnam. In all three markets, local social networking sites reign.

In China, for example, Sina Weibo has 300 million registered users, and a string of other local social networking sites — Renren, Kaixin, Pengyou, Qzone, etc. — boast impressive user bases as well.

The fact that 80% of Facebook’s current user base is located outside North America leads some to make the false assumption that when it comes to social networking, all consumers across the globe have the same interests and preferences, and that what has been designed primarily for American consumers, will appeal equally, and on an enduring basis, to consumers in all corners of the globe. This is an enormous assumption which in my view will turn out to be false.

We Americans, including those of us in the media business, are endowed with a tendency towards a kind of arrogance which in turn gives rise to a blind spot.

It’s a kind of “If we build it, they will come” mentality with regard to our branded content offerings. In fact, sometimes what we build is too American and overlooks the rapid changes in consumer preferences, habits, interests, and available local alternatives in other parts of the world.

Globalization, the explosion of internet consumption, and the apparent shrinkage of the globe obscure the fact that far more of the news published today is local rather than international, as compared with 30 years ago.

According to Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, American news features less than half as many international stories as were broadcast in the 1970s; and Britain’s 4 major daily newspapers publish an average of 45% fewer international stories than in 1979. Furthermore, according to his research, 95% of the news consumed by American internet users is published in the U.S.

The reality is that American, British and other international media organizations — wire services, newspapers, and magazines — have faced unprecedented financial challenges and pressures during the past 10 years. Not surprisingly, most have cut back on fixed overheads like news bureaus, as well as headcount, like reporters in the field. Most international media organizations have far fewer international bureaus and reporters than they did 15 years ago.

Facebook’s phenomenal success in a short 8 years is a “good news, bad news” story, in the sense that it prompts the inevitable question of whether this trajectory is sustainable over the medium to long term, or not.

If the answer depends on Facebook delivering on the promise that they will conquer the world, then count me among the skeptics.

New York-based writer Robert Lane Greene recently wrote in “Intelligent Life” magazine that “Facebook is the biggest social phenomenon since the telephone.”

It’s an interesting assertion, but it may be early days yet. As of the beginning of the year 1880, when the telephone was still a very new-fangled device, there were 30,000 telephone subscribers in the U.S. By the end of 1880, the number of subscribers had soared to 50,000; and within 10 years, there were nearly 160,000 phones in American households and offices.

For one thing, we’ve had more than 130 years to watch the extraordinary development and evolution of telephony around the world. For another, it represents a culturally and politically neutral technology and business model.

Just as many Facebook and Google+ users complain about their growing intrusiveness and related privacy issues, many observers were less than enthusiastic about the spread of the telephone in the early days.

Consider, for example, what Mark Twain had to say in his Christmas greetings in 1890, published in the Boston Globe:

It is my warm-hearted and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone.”

We can only wonder whether, if Twain were still among us today, he would substitute Mark Zuckerberg for the inventor of the telephone in that statement.


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