FAN FICTION: Facebook Tower

06/10/2015 11:41 am ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016


Subject: New employee talking points for Facebook Tower - FOR INTERNAL REVIEW

Hi team - employees have been asking for short talking points that they can use when talking to various parties about Facebook Tower. Here's a first draft, let me know what you think! - [REDACTED]

For Individuals
Welcome to Facebook Tower, open since 2004 and currently home to 1.44 billion people from around the world. It's completely free to come live in Facebook Tower, and when you move in you get complimentary access to all of our amenities, including photo sharing, groups, the newsfeed, messenger, and our application platform - all of which you can freely use*. In addition, your Facebook Tower apartment key also gives you instant access to many other buildings throughout town. So what are you waiting for, move in to Facebook Tower today!

* With any other resident of Facebook Tower

For Businesses
Business owners - get access to 1.44 billion people from around the world by setting up shop in Facebook Tower. We think it's fair to say that someday, every person on earth will live in Facebook Tower. But you don't want to waste your advertising and marketing budget on every person on earth, just the ones that you know will buy your products and services. Through the data that our residents voluntarily give us (like gender, location, favorite music, movies, TV, etc.) as well as what we collect from them as they live their lives in the Tower and use our various amenities, we are able to target your advertising and promotions to reach exactly the people that you want to reach. Whether you're a large, medium, or small business, we can help you drive sales and grow your business, so sign up today!

For Investors

Want a piece of the hottest real estate in town? Facebook Tower generated $3.54 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2015, an increase of 42% over the same quarter the previous year. The bulk of our revenue (94%) is from businesses setting up shop in Facebook Tower and marketing to our 1.44 billion residents, with the remainder coming from payments and other fees. We continue to grow along a number of dimensions, including:

  • Our resident base: via teams dedicated to growth, initiatives like, and others
  • Our business base: via growing our resident base! Businesses go where their buyers are...
  • The amenities we offer to our residents to keep them engaged (the more time they spend in the tower, the more businesses can market to them) and generating information that can be used to target marketing
  • The products and services that we offer to businesses
  • Acquisition of up and coming real-estate developments (Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus)
  • Small & fast development experiments that test out & validate (or invalidate) new real-estate concepts (Rooms, Riff, Home, Poke, Slingshot, Camera, Paper, Hello)

For Competitors
(This is so that our employees know how to think about competition. Not for distribution outside the company!)

The foundation of Facebook Tower is the Social Graph - people's connections to each other. On top of that foundation there are 4 pillars holding up the building:

  • Photos - We are the world's largest photo sharing site
  • Groups - Because "everybody you know" is in Facebook Tower, we're the perfect place for residents to create private groups with other residents that they know or public groups around a shared interest or event.
  • Newsfeed - We are the way that our residents get the news, whether about the world or about their friends and family.
  • Messenger - Residents can instantly start free private conversations with any other residents. We continue to add functionality to Messenger (third party apps, payments, etc.), in our quest to make it an indispensable peer-to-peer communication and transaction channel.

Note that the pillars can grow and shrink in importance over time, as either the market or we as a company change our focus. For example our Platform that enabled third party developers to build on our infrastructure and leverage our Social Graph was a key pillar for us for several years starting from its launch in 2007. The open access that we provided to our Social Graph and to the Newsfeed served as a springboard for several other developers (most notably Zynga), but had an overall negative impact on resident experience. Over the years we have evolved the platform to make it more resident friendly, which has had the unfortunate but understandable effect of making it less attractive to other developers to use. As such, it is no longer a key pillar for us.

Our competitors are adopting several different strategies to compete with us, with the following being the three primary ones:

1. Attack the Pillars

We need to defend our existing pillars for as long as we can. When we see other companies successfully coming after a pillar (and drawing away residents), we need to either replicate their efforts or acquire them (for their talent, their residents, or both) outright. Some examples:

  • Instagram: Was attacking the Photos pillar. ACQUIRED
  • WhatsApp: Was attacking the Messenger pillar. ACQUIRED
  • Snapchat: Is attacking the Messenger pillar. REPLICATED (failed) and attempted to ACQUIRE
  • FriendFeed: Was attacking the Newsfeed pillar. ACQUIRED
  • Twitter: Was attacking the Newsfeed pillar. REPLICATED parts and attempted to ACQUIRE

While there have been small competitors (and acquisitions) around the Groups pillar, there have not been any serious competitors to date, most likely due to the strength of our Social Graph. This primarily pertains to private groups where residents know each other and the Social Graph makes it frictionless to connect. We'll discuss below how competitors are currently focusing on public groups around shared interests, where our Social Graph provides less benefit.

Our acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp can only be seen as missed opportunities by our biggest competitors to weaken our position. That said, we cannot count on these pillars to sustain our business indefinitely, so we must constantly be experimenting and developing new ones. Our biggest recent bet on a new pillar (in terms of dollars) was our foray into virtual reality with our acquisition of Oculus. As we continue to increase the "fidelity" of the communication and interactions that our residents have access to, VR would appear to be the next logical step.

2. Create a New Building

Our competitors have opened their own towers, but they have had difficulty in convincing residents to relocate. Given that everybody lives in Facebook Tower and has their social graph and social history (which they don't want to lose) stored there, residents are understandably reluctant to move unless there is a compelling new offering at the new tower. Some of the things our competitors have tried (unsuccessfully to date) include:

  • Google Plus: As amenities they offered integration into the entire suite of Google services that hundreds of millions of people already use (YouTube, Gmail, etc.), as well as a new way of managing connections with their concept of Circles. While the concept of Circles makes sense, in practice it appears to be more work than most people are willing to do.
  • Yahoo 360: Similar to Google Plus, they offered built-in integration into their existing suite of services (Flickr, LAUNCH, Groups, etc.).
  • Ello: More of a yurt than a tower, their "compelling new offering" is that they won't work with businesses - so there is no marketing or advertising there.

3. Turn Strength into Weakness

3.1 Our Strength: Real Identity

At a time when MySpace was the "cool place to live", Facebook Tower struck a chord by initially limiting residents to specific college campuses as well as requiring them to use their real identities. And while we have since opened Facebook Tower to the rest of the world, real identity remains a core tenet of our Social Graph. At the other end of the spectrum, some our competitors have launched offerings where being anonymous is the default. These include:

  • Whisper: Purports to be completely anonymous, and content can be shared by anyone on any topic.
  • Secret: Now defunct, was "anonymish" in that you could tell that content was from a friend or a friend of a friend, but not specifically who.
  • Yik Yak: Purports to be completely anonymous. Uses the user's location to add them to the community for a college campus, so context is set by location.
  • After School: Like Yik Yak, but for high schoolers.

One thing that all the anonymous offerings have in common is bad resident behavior. Divorced from any repercussions, people are free to act badly, and often do so in the forms of abuse, hateful speech, bullying, shaming, etc. This is an issue that all offerings that don't require real identity have to deal with, and they currently do so using various combinations of community voting, moderation, and algorithms. This behavioral issue is a serious threat to the ongoing viability of all these businesses, as has been seen by the closures of PostSecret, JuicyCampus, Formspring, and most recently Secret.

There is clearly a human need/desire to share things anonymously. It's also clear that no one has yet cracked the code on the right way to do anonymity online. While Facebook and Whisper can be seen as opposite ends of the spectrum, it will be interesting to see if there are opportunities "in the middle" to create a system where there is anonymity or pseudonymity but also an incentive to behave well.

3.2 Our Strength: We Remember
Things used to happen, and then they were gone. Capturing memories was expensive in terms of effort, time and money, so only the "special" moments were captured. And even those moments that were captured had limited exposure - the photos in your photo album could only be seen by the people you explicitly, physically showed them to. Facebook Tower helped change all that, making it trivially easy for residents to capture, store and share their thoughts, links, pictures, conversations, likes and more, forever. That social history is a strong retention hook for us and a reason for residents not to move into another developer's tower.

The downside of this is that when residents know that everything is being remembered and shared with all their connections, instead of sharing honest moments that depict the real ups and downs of their lives, they share the "Christmas Card" versions of their lives. Residents use what they share to construct an ideal identity that all their connections see. This can lead residents to "compare and despair", when they see the great lives that everyone is else is living and compare them to their own, without realizing that they're actually viewing their connections' highlight reels.

Given this, there would seem to be an opportunity for places where unlike Facebook Tower, the default behavior is to forget. This would enable residents to be more free, honest and spontaneous in what they share, vs. the carefully considered construction that they engage in today at Facebook Tower.

The competitor that has best capitalized on this to date is clearly Snapchat - which enables their 100 million mostly young residents to send self-destructing messages to each other. Snapchat's initial focus was person-to-person photo and video messaging, in direct competition with our Photos and Messenger pillars. Since then they have added the concept of Stories, which is more akin to our Newsfeed pillar in that what users share can be shared with either everyone on Snapchat, just the person's friends, or a customized group. They continue to add new features and functionality to grow their footprint, including offerings like Snapcash for peer-to-peer payments and Discover as a way for businesses to promote content to their residents.

Snapchat appears to have, at least for the time being, "won" as the general purpose ephemeral residence of choice. But we expect to see the idea of ephemeral content appearing in more specialized offerings, and may even include them in some of our own.

3.3 Our Strength: Everybody Lives Here
Residents can move into Facebook Tower as soon as they turn 13 years old. From that point on, as they transition through grade school, college, and then into the working world and starting families, they create connections with other residents of the Tower that they meet in these various contexts. Given the size of our resident base, it's almost guaranteed that anyone they meet is also a resident of Facebook Tower, making it easy for residents to build up their Social Graph.

But while we call these connections "Friends", they don't necessarily accurately reflect the people that a given resident considers their actual friends at any point in time, or even the people that the resident might want to share things with. Are the 30 people that you added from your high school science class still your friends when you're 40? Do you want to share your love of Madonna with everyone you've ever known - relatives, friends of friends, business acquaintances, former college classmates, etc?

Realistically, a single group of "Friends" can't hope to reflect the nuances of our various contexts, social circles, and relationships. The logical solution would seem to be to enable residents to create lists (groups, circles) that more accurately reflect their friends. For instance: "Close Friends", "Dorm Buddies", "School Moms", etc. In practice, we've discovered that making and maintaining these lists is work that residents don't want to do. Google discovered (rediscovered?) the exact same thing with their notion of Circles, which looked different but had the same end goal.

Rather than starting with the big block of "everyone I've ever known" and then whittling lists out of it, an alternative approach is to create a property around a shared interest or context, and then try to attract residents to it. There are a number of ways to approach this, including:

  • A shared location: Yik Yak, After School and others use your current location to create context - automatically assigning you to a school or an event.
  • A shared interest: 6Tribes, Place, Interests, Clubhouse, Amino and our own Rooms are all interest-based properties where residents can gather around topics that either they themselves create or that are selected and curated by the developer. We currently support this with our public Groups, and Google is even starting to do this with their Collections offering - but those are both a small part of a larger offering, vs. the sole focus on interests that the competitors listed are exhibiting.
  • A shared context, life stage or identity: School, college, work, parenthood, sexual identity, suffering from a chronic disease - some of these, like parents, have been heavily targeted already (and in fact we ourselves started with a focus on college students). Others have not, and these represent opportunity areas for our competitors. One interesting new development in this area is Off the Clock, a place where workers can talk privately about their jobs with their coworkers, share their work stories anonymously with the world, and meet other people with the same job. They actually appear to be going after all three weaknesses described here - by targeting a shared context, incorporating elements of anonymity & pseudonymity, and supporting ephemeral messaging in their offering. Off the Clock is currently invitation only, but we did find an invitation code that seemed to work: "unomas".

As you can see, there are a number of ways for our competitors to lure our residents, attack our pillars and undermine our business. In order to ensure our future and our ongoing relevance, we must continue to aggressively try new ideas, replicate successful concepts, and acquire potential threats and future growth opportunities.

Director of Marketing and Misinformation, Facebook Tower