So let me get this straight: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks his company is like a dying 20th Century business?
On Thursday, Facebook announced its plans to launch a redesigned News Feed. At the very beginning of the announcement, Zuckerberg compared Facebook to a newspaper.
"Our mission is to give everyone in the world the best personalized newspaper in the world," he said.
The Facebook News Feed should have high-quality news from around the world, as well as updates from family and friends, Zuckerberg said. Facebook will create a front page showing the most important updates, and then allow users to focus on individual topics they want to see: Photos, music, events, content from third-party apps, and more.
It'll be just like a newspaper, where readers can see the top story on the front page, and then dig down into sections for specialized news.
As Zuckerberg repeated: Facebook wants to "build a foundation for the best personalized newspaper."
Now, here's the thing about newspapers: They're losing money, and going out of business regularly. It's a dying industry.
I know that Zuck and the Facebook team aren't literally comparing Facebook to newspapers as they are today. He's comparing Facebook to the ideal of the newspaper as the vital communications backbone tying society together. That's what newspapers were for a period spanning literally centuries, from before Ben Franklin to a few years after Dwight Eisenhower,
The Perfect Newspaperpeople
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (1940).
On another day, I would have gone along with Facebook's metaphor. But watching the video stream of Facebook's announcement on Tuesday, I kept having the nagging feeling that Facebook executives have lost touch with how people use Facebook.
As one executive after another stepped onstage and in front of the camera, it struck me how well-groomed, fashionably disheveled, and extremely young they all looked. This is a company steeped in the culture of the Ivy League, Stanford, and Silicon Valley. They talked about Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, and sushi.
I thought about my friends and family -- people who are parents and grandparents -- and who rely on Facebook to stay in touch with their friends and family. And it was hard for me to find a connection between the two groups: The Silicon Valley millionaires that build Facebook, and the middle-American Soccer Moms and Minivan Dads who use it -- not to mention the people from other countries around the world.
I'm a Facebook user, myself. I have several roles in my relationship to Facebook. I manage a business that uses Facebook to connect with its community (here's our Facebook page -- like it please). I'm also a journalist who watches Facebook on behalf of other businesses. In those roles, listening to Thursday's announcement, I heard precious little about how Facebook will become more attractive to business.
I'm also a regular person and Facebook addict who uses Facebook to connect with friends and family. In that role, I thought, "Bigger pictures and more third-party integration? Oh, heck no -- that means more of those dumb photos with political messages lettered on them. More out-of-focus pictures of people's cats. More game invitations and Foursquare check-ins. More noise."
When I heard about increased ability to customize Facebook, I thought, "More confusing controls. I don't even have time to configure Facebook's current controls."
As for using Facebook to keep up with the news: I don't do that, and I don't know anybody else who does. We use Facebook to connect with friends and family. Or play games. That's it.
This announcement comes at a time when Facebook appears to be in trouble, as documented by The New York Times in its story prior to the announcement: "Face-Lift at Facebook, to Keep Its Users Engaged." Teenagers are losing interest in Facebook, turning to other services, including Instagram, which Facebook owns. People use Pinterest to share shopping desires, Tumblr for self-expression, and Twitter for news and entertainment.
Facebook stock is down from its peak, even though it's up from its worst. It's still nowhere near its IPO price.
I'm not predicting the death of Facebook. It has a billion users who are still highly engaged. Heck, I'm on Facebook several times a day myself.
It's just that, after looking at yesterday's announcement, as well as the recent disappointing Graph Search and the hated Timeline, I'm worried about Facebook. Like the makers of this short film, I'm asking Zuckerberg and his team, "Do you really know what you're doing?"
Of course, I could be wrong. As a matter of fact, watch the comments below on Friday, and I'll show you how I'd refute this blog.