Verb wall: The $40 billion Mark Zuckerberg is leaving on the table

Mark Zuckerberg answers Jessica Livingston's questions at Startup School

I was on stage with Facebook advertising Product Manager Paul Adams this morning. Don’t know who he is? He came up with the research that led to Google Circles before moving to Facebook. Interesting guy, but he told me that Facebook isn’t working on ways to push advertising back out through the verbs to client apps.

First, what’s a verb? Every time you comment, like, read, run, or do other things you are creating data that gets turned into a verb and pushed into Facebook via an API.

You can see the results of these verbs on the new ticker that runs on the right side of Facebook.com. On my screen right now it says “Erik Lammerding read…” or “Verizon Wireless added…” or “Katherine Goldstein likes…”

But the problem is Facebook has a verb wall, which means Zuckerberg is leaving BIG money on the table.

Let’s unpack just how much money Facebook is leaving on the table. First of all, here’s an interesting video with AllTrails. Don’t know who they are? They are yet another app developer that is collecting interesting data about the world. In this case hiking trails and other outdoor activity areas. Go ahead and watch, I’ll wait until you get back.

Do you see the verbs? “Walked…” “Skiied…” “Boated…” “Finished…” “Ran…” “Cycled…” “Climbed…”

Now, the reason I posted this here is because there are hundreds of companies like AllTrails. Companies like Foodspotting, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around food. Companies like RunKeeper, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around exercise. Companies like Foursquare, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around location.

These companies have data that Mark Zuckerberg wants. Why?

Facebook’s driving mission is to know everything about everything. Oh, OK, they don’t say that on stage, but we all know that’s where they are going, don’t we? (officially it’s: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”)

After all, Facebook is a new kind of media company. One where the media comes TO us. Yahoo is the old kind of media company. We have to go TO the media there. That’s why Yahoo is boring, no matter how many iPad apps they release. It’s old and creaky. It’s not social. It doesn’t have verbs. It doesn’t have a way to bring my friends, or my interests to me like Facebook and Google+ can. Facebook is new and fresh. Paul nailed why on stage: the web is being rebuilt around people. He gave several examples, but, heck, AllTrails is as good an example as any. I can see what people say about the trails. Even better, as AllTrails integrates into Facebook, I can see which trails my friends have been on.

The problem is that Mark Zuckerberg’s “verbs” (the way that apps, like Foodspotting, AllTrails, Foursquare, or Runkeeper will share their info into Facebook) are sort of one way. Facebook has a cultural bug here. They view everything like a data roach motel: all your data can come in, but it won’t leave. Well, except that Zuckerberg keeps hiring all these open web folks, so watch for this to change.

And, due to Paul’s statements on stage, I’d go further: all your app data will come in, but no value will escape.

That means that Mark Zuckerberg still hasn’t seen the $40 billion market that he’s leaving on the table because he’s not thinking about how to become THE ad network for the modern mobile age.

Let’s go into what Facebook will have to do.

They will need to build a new messaging infrastructure for advertising. A lot of that is already built, but ads need to be portable, mobile friendly (form factors that work on iPhones and Android phones need to be standardized on) and need to be able to be passed through the contextual engine that Facebook is building (geeky way of saying “database that understands everything about you and your role in the world”) and out, through those verb interfaces, to be displayed on apps like Foodspotting, AllTrails, etc.

Today, when I use Facebook on a mobile phone, I don’t see a whole lot of advertising.

Adams, who is a product manager working on the advertising team, hinted at the kinds of advertising that he’s interested in: ones that put people first. He showed several examples of commercial sites that became much more useful once social is added to them. Etsy and Trip Advisor, for instance, both change when you add Facebook to them to show a new kind of commerce: “five of your friends have been to this hotel.” THAT is very powerful.

But, take that out, past the verb wall, aren’t we more likely to be transactional when we are out and about and using apps like Amazon’s new “Flow” app, or AllTrails. “Five of the people who’ve been on this trail ate at Joe’s dinner, 500 yards away.”

This is a new kind of advertising and there’s going to be BILLIONS of dollars spent on this kind of “people-centric” advertising.

But first Mark Zuckerberg has to open up the verb wall and start passing VALUE back through that wall out to third-party developers.

If he does that, oh, boy, you will see a TON of innovation unleashed as developers build new kinds of apps for mobile developers.

First, though, Mark will have to blow open the verb wall. So, Zuckerberg, this is all my way of saying “tear down this wall.”

Comments

  1. Good points Robert. While we know Facebook likely is not going to disappear, HOW successful they are is going to be depends on how quickly they make improvements in the mobilization and deeper integration with others. Of course, with something as seemingly simple as the Timeline rollout already late, you could be on to something here.

  2. Robert, I think that you’ve got the best quote Ive seen in a long time.  Facebook views (uses and monetizes) data using the model of a “roach motel: all your data can come in, but it won’t leave”

    You also make the point that to get at that $40b on the table that  “first Mark Zuckerberg has to open up the verb wall and start passing VALUE back through that wall out to third-party developers.”

    I think Facebook’s competitors are underestimating them if they don’t also think that (again your words)  “hiring all those open web folks” is already on the way to helping monitize that vast storehouse of data.   

    Will it take the wall coming down to get the money thats on the table… Perhaps some strategically placed and controlled doors with big burly datacenter bouncers and velvet rope lines of code??

    1. I may be one of the few, but I personally find ads I’m interested in useful. The key to whether they are interesting is TARGETING – what Google AdWords originally did VERY well (but later ruined with their ever-expanding broad match). 

      Personally I believe that StumbleUpon is the site that has left the most money on the table. Did you know that they have pages for every keyword that show the best content ever shared and who shares the best content on just about every topic? Few people even know those pages exist or how to get to them. 

      If StumbleUpon would open their minds to a broader view of their function they could easily monetize those pages with the most relevant, targeted ads about each subject and turn them into serious competition for advertiser dollars that show ads that users actually WANT to see that would REALLY CONVERT – and conversion is THE true test of advertising for the ADVERTISER (not the ad seller). Higher conversions = higher spending. 

      I wrote about that years ago and had attempted to suggest it to StumbleUpon over the years with no response. They might listen to Robert. One of those posts that explains what I mean is at http://www.growmap.com/twitter-advertising/ and the syntax for finding the pages I mentioned on StumbleUpon is http://www.stumbleupon.com/discover/keywords 

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  4. The question becomes:

    Is the information obtainable through Facebook’s APIs AND the information available through the APIs of a massive combination of others smaller networks more valuable than the entirety of Facebook’s information?

    1. Robert think you are wrong here… people hate push advertising… they are very happy to accept pull advertising. Push advertising on a computer screen which is a medium based around choice simply comes across as rude . That is where the facebook model works… because people share stuff that they like with their mates… this is “have a look at my pull advertising” and it works… Kiva are a great example of this in action. If you just plaster facebook with push advertising it will die and they are very aware of that. If you click on an advert on facebook you have the option to make it go away and rate it with a whole load of funny options (and you can add your own)… very clever marketing…. even the push feels controllable. 

      The older generation (which should included me) are so accustomed to push advertising on TV (which is a much less choice based medium) that they are immune… actually I have always found it rude not sure why… maybe because I was brought up on the BBC with no advertising or even product placement. 

      For me push advertising cheapens web pages. In fact I generally only take non advertising based pages seriously (or they need to be very carefully placed so they are not intruisive). However I am a real sucker for pull advertising … those email offers from my favourite companies with good discounts… that is where my spend goes…

      I think Facebook have it about right at present… there are plenty of clever ways to market with all the information they have about us. They simply do not need to resort to a plastering adverts solution (:

      1. Lisa, I think we, mostly, hate advertising cause advertising on the internet is stuck in the stone age (maybe because we, yet, can’t create more graphically pleasing adverts without killing much of computer horse power to render it through web pages) For example, take a look at the Google Ads, forget the returns for a minute, they look like web spam, or so what I thought for a long time, long time ago! :)

      2. i think it all comes down to the decision making which is mostly indirect. you need to get a kid excited via some cartoon, then he goes and pitches it to father. who in turn realizes that five of his friends have already taken their children to XYZ park.

    2. We love advertising that gives us something. Be it entertainment, financial benefit, information that can increase our social status. 

      We hate advertising that gets in the way. e.g. whole page take overs before you can read the blog post or watch the video. 

      Advertising like the internet needs to become for people centric.

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