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Marky Z and Facebook: Growing Up and Aiming High

FIN03_FB_262602facebook founder and CEO, baby-faced billionaire, and unintended star of a hit (don’t miss the double meaning) film Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that it will soon be offering a new messaging system, Facebook Messages, that integrates email (so 20th century), IM, SMS, Facebook, and other social media into one seamless stream of cyber-communication. With this proclamation, Facebook officially demonstrated that it is no longer content being the number-one social networking web site on Earth. Marky Z has decided that it’s time to grow up, aim higher, and take on the big boys of the digital-entertainment-technology-industrial complex (Messrs. Gates, Jobs, and Schmidt). But this news is just a shot across the bow of the big ships of the Microsoft, Apple, and Google armadas. There are also rumors that Facebook is developing software for a new mobile phone, thus setting its sights on a market that is owned by his elderly (in tech years) compadres.

Never mind that Facebook Messaging appears to be similar to Google Wave, which was released last year and is already defunct, and AOL’s recent announcement of Project Phoenix, likely its last ditch effort to remain relevant in the cyber world.

And never mind that Google and Apple have a seemingly insurmountable lead in smartphone technology, market share, and fanboy devotees.

And never mind that, after several privacy-related snafus, many end users are a bit leery of giving Facebook even more access to their digital lives.

And never mind that Facebook is years behind and entering an arena of which it is largely unfamiliar. Can Facebook create technology beyond its social networking that is innovative and edgy enough to break end users of their deeply entrenched digital habits? Microsoft, with its, IMHO, years-too-late rollout of its Windows Phone 7 OS (to very mixed reviews), is attempting to do the same thing as we speak. And, let’s be realistic, though Marky Z has deep pockets to support his new toys, Uncle Bill’s wealth and marketing muscle makes him appear to be a pauper and a 110-pound weakling (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration).

As anyone who has ever glanced at (but, of course, doesn’t actually read) the yearly Predictions issue of The National Enquirer or watched any of the truly tedious and far-too-long NFL pre-game shows on ESPN knows, it’s easy to prognosticate because no one ever goes back to prove you so thoroughly wrong. But, given the security of that fact, I will make a bold prediction based on my moderately well-researched understanding of Facebook and, more importantly, my armchair psychoanalysis its youthful emperor.

Here goes. However brilliant Marky Z may be at tech stuff, because he is only 26, not an experienced businessman, and, if The Social Network holds any truth to what lies deep inside his psyche, somewhat immature and ego-driven, he will make some poor strategic decisions and push Facebook to bite off more than it can chew in the next few years. Of course, Facebook will remain an immense force in the cyber world for years to come because, well, Marky Z has about 500 million friends to support him and no sign of a truly competitive rival in social networking to challenge his supremacy (of course, that’s what they said about MySpace and watch out for Google).

But if he has a “come to Jesus” moment, recognizes his own limitations (as Larry Page and Sergey Brin did at Google in bringing in Eric Schmidt), and can go to the well again with the vision that enabled him to create and build Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg will be able to leverage Facebook’s platform and take it in an exciting new direction. If he and Facebook can mature from an unlikely start-up to a feisty adolescent (where they are now) to a mature professional (while keeping the ping pong and Razors), then Mr. Zuckerberg will be a major player on the technology/entertainment/media ball field for years to come.

If that happens, he’ll be able to look back twenty years from now at the ripe old age (in tech years) of 46 at his latest youthful doppelganger and think “Welcome to the jungle, my young and naïve friend. You got something? Bring it on.”

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