Evolution of Facebook

Facebook Evolution
Happy birthday, Facebook! I’ve been an user and fan since its 2004 founding year. It was also the year I entered UC Berkeley as a freshman. Now that I think of it, part of my college experience has basically been defined by Facebook. I was talking about this to my friend the other day, and we can’t really imagine what college would be like without Facebook. It’s been a total of 5 years and as you can see in retrospect, a lot of changes have been made. When I joined, there were about 15 or so college networks. Now they have more than 150 million active users. Amazing.
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Running The Marathon

It’s common saying in the Valley that your idea will fail and constant production iterations are inevitable. However, when taking a quick glance around, all we talk about are the instant successes. Facebook seemed to have taken off from the getgo. Twitter was always about status updates. And Google was web search from day one. Sure, business plans are still in the works (I’ll save that for another post), but the killer feature seemed to have been there from the beginning. This is awesome, yet, at the same time, depressing for the many entrepreneurs who are still out there grinding day in and day out.

While the media likes to highlight the home-runs, there are plenty of startups running the marathon one leg at a time. So, I decided to take a look around at some startups that morphed since its beginnings and are making good progress forward.

Iminlikewithyou.com is an interesting website that gives you casual flash games. The idea started as a flirting/dating site with twist. Originally, users would bid on each other, in attempts to woo the opposite sex. Since then, the founders have refocused the site on casual gaming. My favorite is “Blockles,” where is basically Tetris with items. Frankly, I have wasted hours of my life playing this addicting game. In a nice way, you can still find the original social features still present on the site. You can friend, chat, and connect with people on the site.

iminlikewithyou

Iminlikewithyou has raised at least $1.5 since its founding. While the website is still relatively unknown compared to the other big players, it’s making progress. Surprisingly, my “mainstream” friends discovered the site before I did, and it’s definitely got me as an user.

Chegg is a online textbook rentals company. Never being a textbook kind of a guy (whatever that means), I’ll have to admit I’m not a user of the website. Originally, the site started as an online classified for colleges. In other words, college craigslist. I have been following this site because I started out with the same idea in college. What was especially hard was reaching critical mass within a college. A large public university has about 20k undergraduates, and you would need a big portion of that community for the website to be meaningful.

chegg

Now as a textbook rentals company, it’s claimed to have save students $19k (as of Feb 2, 2009). Since its founding in 2003, the site has raised $27M and the co-founder is still there. Again, like many other startups, there’s still work to be done, but I’m excited about its future. I hope the idea works out. I hated paying for all those textbooks.

While the huge success stories are inspirational, chances are you won’t get a home-run right away. Remember that there are tons of other companies out there that are more like you.

Internet Population Passes 1 Billion

As reported by ComScore, the world-wide internet population has surpasses 1 billion as of December 2008. While it is quite a big number, the data also mean another 5 billion people are not online. Having grown up with internet since elementary school, I cannot imagine life with out it. ComScore broke the data down to the top 15 countries with the largest internet populations.

The top 15 countries seemed to pretty obvious to me, so I decided to find out what portion of each country was online.

Country Online Total Percentage
China 179.7 1330 13.5%
USA 163.3 303.8 53.8%
Japan 60 127.3 47.1%
Germany 37 82.4 44.9%
United Kingdom 36.7 60.9 60.3%
France 34 61.5 55.3%
India 32.1 1148 2.8%
Russia 29 140.7 20.6%
Brazil 27.7 191.9 14.4%
South Korea 27.3 48.4 56.4%
Canada 21.8 33.2 65.7%
Italy 20.8 58.1 35.8%
Spain 17.9 40 44.75%
Mexico 12.5 110 11.4%
Netherlands 11.8 16.5 71.5%



China is in #1 with the biggest internet audience, but their numbers only represent 13.5% of their population. The room for growth is still tremendous. I can’t even imagine the number of chinese websites that I will never come across. The most surprising figure, however, is India’s percentage. With a booming population of 1.1 billion, only 2.8% are online! While the internet industry in both countries are not as mature as the US, the talent and potential are there. There’s no doubt we will experience a good dose of competition from abroad, if not already.

On the hand, the figures of South Korea and Japan make me scratch my head in wonder. Both countries have been praised as one of the most connected countries in the world. Their wireless and mobile technologies surpass the US, yet the numbers still show about 50% are online, which is about the same as the US.

We live at an exciting period in time, and opportunities are still wide open to internet entrepreneurs world-wide. Oh, and happy Chinese New Years :) Here’s to another billion.

Update: One caveat I overlooked: “Excludes traffic from public computers such as Internet cafes or access from mobile phones or PDAs.” The internet population in Asia is probably way bigger than the data states.

The Customer Development Model

It’s pretty clear now that “getting users” isn’t a simple thing to do. I came across a presentation that addresses just this. It claims that startup’s focus too much of their early attention on product development, and not enough “customer development.” As a result, startups fail not because engineering was broken, but because their offering is just not valuable enough to the customers. Rather relying on a “launch” and hoping users will just come, the author explains that there should be a long and iterative process beforehand that validates that you can actually creating something that people wants.

For instance, during the early stages, there should be a back-and-forth process between customer discovery and customer validation. The presentation wants you to keep in mind that the “facts are outside the building, opinions are inside.” In other words, you might think your idea is valuable, but you won’t really know until you verify with the market. From the concept, see if you can make a repeatable sales. If not, go back to the drawing board.

I find the structure that the author lays out to be pretty useful. However, how you decide to mold or change your idea is the hard part. No one has the answer to this and you’ll never really know until you try it.

Internet Socializing Not Bad

According to the New York Times, Mizuko Ito, a research at Univeristy of California, Irvine, claims that internet socializing, which has caused fear in many parents, is not necessarily bad. She says, “But their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

The study, part of a $50 million project on digital and media learning, used several teams of researchers to interview more than 800 young people and their parents and to observe teenagers online for more than 5,000 hours. Because of the adult sense that socializing on the Internet is a waste of time, the study said, teenagers reported many rules and restrictions on their electronic hanging out, but most found ways to work around such barriers that let them stay in touch with their friends steadily throughout the day.

This article article touched on two parts: the apparent fear of internet usage and the inter-woven presence of new media in everyday life.

In regards to the first topic, it seems pretty outdated to view social networks, such as MySpace and Facebook, as something unknown. The study came to a conclusion that “there’s been some confusion about what kids are actually doing online. Mostly, they’re socializing with their friends, people they’ve met at school or camp or sports.” Duh? It’s pretty surprising to me that a lot of people still don’t get this.

Secondly, we all have to realize that new media is the future, and we better get accustomed to it. By getting accustomed to social networks and new media, teenagers begin to understand how to take advantage of the new communication mediums. For example, it seems almost necessary to have a LinkedIn nowadays. Moreover, people learn what is safe to put in their Facebook profiles. I mean, come on, even Barack Obama is using YouTube to deliver his radio chats. Moreover, many traditional journalists use Twitter now. Communication has changed and there’s no turning back now. Better get used to it, or get left in the dust.