Yesterday Zynga announced that they’re going to branch out of Facebook and launch their own Zynga Live gaming network.
Is that bad for Facebook? I’m not sure. I actually think this can end up as one of the best things that happened to Facebook in 2010…
As a product person I always felt that one of the hardest things to do is to control your product identity. In “identity” I specifically refer to what people answer when they’re asked “What is Facebook?” (or, in my case “What is Yedda?”).
What is Skype? Ask people what Skype is and 99% will tell you it’s a cheap/free way to call people, even though it’s a full fledged IM… Ask people what MS Messagner is and 99% will tell you it’s an instant messenger, even though it’s a full fledged VOIP client. Why is this happening?
My guess would be “Imprinting“. People associate the product with the first activity they engaged in when they’re exposed to the product. What’s even more important is that they will go on and “sell” the product to their friends using the same terminology. In the case of Skype this resulted in hundreds of millions telling their friends “Did you try Skype already?… No? you don’t know what Skype is… you must try it’s a free phone”.
Once imprinting happens changing people’s perception of your product is almost imposible and even millions of dollars in marketing expenses wont guaranty a result.
Facebook did an amazing job building their product “identity”. Go ask people what Facebook is and 99% will tell you “it’s where I keep in touch with my friends”. Becoming that kind of communication channel for hundreds of millions of people is nothing short of amazing.
2 weeks ago I relented and opened a Facebook account for Shahar, my 7 (and by that I mean 18 of course) years old daughter. She was begging me to do so for weeks, kept going “Dad I want a farm, ppppplease, dad I want a farm can I have a Facebook?”
If you ask Shahar what Facebook is she will tell you “It’s where my farm is”. In her case Facebook lost the product identity battle. The imprint is done, and for her Facebook would always be a gaming site. The best scenario Facebook can hope for now is that she will think of Facebook as a social gaming site… But there is already a better social gaming site than then Facebook… it’s called Zynga Live
Zynga is a classic example of a parasite growing so much that it start threatening its host. Zynga threatens the core of Facebook, their identity. Each time a person sees a corn/cow in his news feed Facebook’s identity is shaken and that person has to ask himself if he just signed into a social gaming site or a social network?
Facebook can’t continue being passive. They know that and have already started restricting “apps” from doing stuff like flooding people’s news feeds with their updates (and guess who’s going to be most affected from that move?)
But this is only one little step. Facebook is facing a crucial junction and they’ll have to take a decision in the next couple of months. There are 2 main options I see here (and I’m sure I’m missing many others:)
Option 1 – Acquisition:
Don’t laugh. What we’re seeing right now might be part of a weird courtship ritual (think lions) where, to the onlooker, the whole thing looks really aggressive but ends up in… acquisition. This will cost 2-3 billion but will enable Facebook to gain control of their identity and branch out Social Gaming from Social Networking by introducing a separate brand/sub brand
Option 2 – Pest Control:
There is only one way to get rid of a parasite that aims to choke you… force, brute force. If things go down this road we’re about to see one the ugliest battles in the history of the web. It will make Apple/Adobe look like a child play.