Facebook is Mission-Critical

11/16/10

Facebook is mission-critical infrastructure. Not for me and not for you either, since you reading this makes the odds of your age being greater than Zuckerberg’s quite high. However, for millions of people between the ages of 10 and 23, Facebook is critical to their lives. The reason? Homework.

I’m old enough to have stopped doing homework a decade ago, but not old enough to have kids in this age range, and thus for me to see this it took listening to a panel of four high schoolers and one college student at the Future Forward conference in Wellesley, MA, a couple of weeks ago.

Everyone did homework the same way. The editor of choice was Microsoft Word, “because that’s the only format teachers would take assignments in.” Then there was a browser with multiple Facebook chat windows open. Have a problem with homework? Ask a classmate who’s doing the same assignment. Your classmates can’t help? Ask a friend in an upper class. Simple, no? I wish I had it that easy when I was in high school. Instead, I had to walk through fog & drizzle up the hill (both ways) then climb towards the roof of a haunted thirteenth century Welsh castle… I digress.

The reason why Facebook is such a good fit for people of this age group and especially for high schoolers is three-fold:

• People in this age group move in cohorts and have shared experiences in class. This base of shared experience provides a solid foundation for a social network, but also makes the social network useful for solving problems such as doing homework and making recommendations with regards to fashion, music, dating, etc.

• People in this age group do not have other social networks that could compete in size and relevance with this one. So there is no need to think about who you “friend,” i.e. connect with, on Facebook vs. anything else. It is no surprise that on the panel nobody had heard of LinkedIn and only one person knew of a friend who used Twitter (what for, he had no idea or interest in finding out).

• People in this age group live a geographically constrained life, making geo-based networking tools largely irrelevant. No surprise then that not one of the five panelists used Foursquare or Gowalla. In fact, only two knew what Foursquare was and none had even heard of Gowalla.

What couldn’t be done with Facebook, the group did using texting and e-mail. E-mail served three main purposes: communicating with old people (teachers), sending files, and personal information management. That last bit was interesting: they’d e-mail files to themselves in order to have them in one place where the information would be searchable and available from any machine.

Yesterday morning Andrew Bosworth—co-creator of the newsfeed and one of the sharpest tacks at Facebook—introduced the new Facebook messaging system, which integrates SMS, e-mail, instant messages, and Facebook messages, and, finally, allows Facebook users to handle attachments. Checkmate. Facebook just became the complete mission-critical infrastructure for getting homework done. If the plan works, it will add some more billions to the valuation of the company. And, likely, get the privacy watchdogs to increase their scrutiny—as there is now little information about the lives of teens and college students that Facebook won’t see.

Who wants to bet on whether Facebook will replace Microsoft Word with a simple, integrated editor with built in sharing & chat?

Simeon (Sim) Simeonov is a serial entrepreneur and investor. Currently, he is founder and CTO of Shopximity where he works to make shopping better for everyone. You can read his blog at http://blog.simeonov.com and follow him on Twitter at @simeons. Follow @

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