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。”
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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