Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Has Facebook lost its way?

We tend to assume that successful companies like Facebook get large, wealthy and powerful by making better decisions than everyone else. Consider Facebook's recent decision to buy mapping company Waze for a rumoured $1 billion and to hire ex-Apple mapping team leader Richard Williamson. Clearly Facebook has decided it needs its own mapping functionality and not rely on Microsoft's Bing, in it's desktop product, or Apple's maps on iOS and Google on Android. Is this a good decision? Well on the face of it yes, but really Facebook seems to be the last person in the room to wakeup and smell the coffee. As I noted when discussing Apple's mapocalypse back in September 2012 - location services are going to be really important in the future. Apple couldn't afford to gift this market to Google and Facebook can't either.
   Google became interested in maps back in 2004, when it bought the Australian company Where 2 Technologies. Now this is an example of a good strategic decision. Our computing devices weren't even very mobile in 2004 but Google invested heavily in mapping - this implies great long term vision. Apple's lauded leader Steve Jobs actually made a very poor strategic decision in 2007 when the iPhone launched. Google Maps should never have been invited on board; Apple should have had its own mapping service from the start. This they belatedly corrected in 2012 because they realised they had to.
    So where has Facebook been? Have they all been too busy playing Farmville! If Facebook really wants users to spend all their time online in Facebook, and with Facebook Home that is exactly what they want you to do. Why did nobody in their Menlo Park HQ think "hey guys, we like really need our own mapping app." This troubles me. The Facebook execs clearly aren't always that smart.

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