Facebook is leading the transformation to creating a people-centric Internet

Social media is changing the way we do things and Facebook is at the forefront of leading this change globally. Be it content providers, publishers, enterprises or consumers, everyone is looking at how best to leverage this platform. eWorld spoke with Mr. Dan Rose, Vice President, Partnerships and Platform Marketing at Facebook to understand what the California-based social networking giant has in store for the future.

eW: Has the IPO changed anything for Facebook in terms of the way you think and work?

DR: We have the benefit of being run by the same person who started it 8 years ago - Mr Zuckerberg and he has a long-term vision. So for us, the IPO has not changed anything. We continue to work on the same things that we have been working on. We are a partnership company, we want to accelerate the shift to the social web. We want to grow users and make easier for people to share information around the world. Nothing has changed for us as a result of going public. This was a milestone for the company but it does not change our strategy.

eW: Has social networking changed the way people use the Internet?

DR: We believe that we are in the middle of a very important transition taking place from information web to social web. What I mean by that is that in the first 10 years of the Internet, the primary mode of discovery was through a combination of directory and search and obviously, that series of the internet was defined by the success of Google and, to some extent, Yahoo.

The way that consumers found out websites and applications was by going to a service lab, essentially organised like an information forum, done through curation or an algorithm. When Facebook started in 2004, we believe that was the beginning of the move to the social web, where rather than a company curating information or an algorithm of the company being recorded, the primary organising principle behind the web and application became friends and people around you. This is a trend which we think is much bigger than just Facebook. It is in many other companies like Twitter and LinkedIn but Facebook is obviously playing a much bigger and more important role.

eW: How is Facebook adapting to the increasing usage of mobile phones?

DR: What we have seen in the last 12 months is that more and more users are using Facebook on mobile devices and more and more content that is showing up on mobile devices are mobile capable applications. Users who are now trying to decide which application to use on mobile devices are deciding based on their friend’s usage patterns. This led us to introduce our product called ‘apps centre’ which is essentially created to provide users with dedicated play to find and discover applications based on what their friends are doing. This is a product that runs on both mobile phones as well as on the desktop.

eW: Gaming is one of the verticals which has really leveraged Facebook. Which other verticals are doing this?

DR: Zynga is a great example of shift from information web to social web. They really reinvented gaming by making it people first, then content. In doing that, they embodied that which we call social design. Social design is a principle that keeps people at the centre of product experience and contents second. The same principle can be and would be applied to other categories, for example, music. Companies like Saavn in India are engrossed with the idea of social design. When Saavn integrated with Facebook, they had 35,000 active users. Within four weeks, they grew to 785,000 active users. They have generated over 750 million Facebook impressions. We are also seeing a lot of innovation in travel.

eW: A lot of companies are driving revenues using the Facebook platform. Any plans to monetise this?

DR: We do not have plans on that today. We are very focused on the opportunity to monetise users on Facebook.com, increasingly focussing on mobile application, which is an area which we think is a very big opportunity today.

eW: What kind of opportunity to do you see in India?

DR: We have 50 million users in India, the second largest just behind the US. It is a very big and important market for Facebook and interestingly, the apt factor for the Indian market is that Facebook is a mobile product. We want to make sure that Facebook is available wherever our users want to access it, with partnerships for the mobile experience.

eW: How do you deal with the challenge of languages and local content?

DR: We made a decision early on to make Facebook available in as many languages around the world as possible. We used an innovative approach and allowed our users to actually translate Facebook for us with 70 plus languages around the world, many of them spoken in India. One of the things that really differentiate us is the Facebook platform. This is the platform that allows developers to build applications relevant to a local region. Certain examples are like the music store that we launched – they are music streaming services specialised in Bollywood music. By integrating such innovation into Facebook, we are able to offer a localised and culturally relevant experience without us having to build or acquire directly.

eW: How significant is your Hyderabad unit ? Any plans to ramp it up?

DR: Our office in India is one of our four operation centres around the world. The other three are in Dublin, Austin (Texas) and California. We also have a sales office in India that is growing rapidly and we continue to invest. This is the largest office in Asia, which is an important market for Facebook where user base is growing rapidly. Obviously there are incredible human resources here that would help Facebook in India, Asia and around the world.

eW: How is Facebook geared to take advantage of the shift from Information web to social web? Is there any downside to this?

DR: When you think of discovering information in your normal life every day, the primary way to discover these things, for most of us, is through people around us. This could be information about a new movie or a restaurant.

From our advantage point, this shift is happening online. We think it is a positive change – making our lives on the Internet more lovable, interesting and it caters to new and different ways to discover information. But, it does not mean that the traditional means of discovery like search and directories are out of focus. The majority of decisions that we make are based on conversations that we have with friends and families.

eW: What is your view on the impact of this change on the future of traditional media like newspapers?

DR: Newspapers traditionally have themselves organised around editorial voice. We buy the newspaper and read it based on how we see newspapers staff, besides how it prioritises the news. When the Internet came along, there was a second organising principle that worked for news which was based on popularity of articles. If I go to a newspaper website today, the most emailed/ read articles are based on the large number of anonymous people that visit that site. Based on what your friends have read, the Facebook platform allows news sites to integrate that into user experience, thereby driving traffic onto that website.

eW: One of the criticisms that advertisers have is that Google does a better job with user data than Facebook. Do you agree?

DR: It is important to understand that our advertising business model is very different from search. If you look at the marketing funnel, search is very important at the bottom of the funnel to gear up the search engine and they look for that product. It is a valuable marketing channel, but actually, a majority of the marketing dollars are spent on top of the funnel, which is seeing very much demand in Facebook. And as a marketing generator, Facebook is very attractive. We are investing heavily and are building analytics and tracking our marketing campaigns. But it is important to make our distinctions from demand generation and demand performance because they are two fundamentally different marketing approaches. It is more like how television offers to marketers differs from what search offers to marketers.

eW: Overall, how is Facebook going to approach this market and also, what could users expect six months down the line?

DR: We are still in the early days of the social web. One of the things that we do very well and actually put a lot of thought behind is really focusing and choosing the things which we can work on so that everything else can be done by our partners. And that is the way we are going to work, to grow and continue to pursue making our world connected. We are still a small company, relatively speaking.

tkt@thehindu.co.in

ronendrasingh.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 5, 2012)
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