I remember having a conversation with Dad sometime in 2010 about Facebook. My father, a seasoned Communications Manager, dismissed the social site as “a fad that will struggle to find a place in business”, before signing off with what can only be described with the benefit of hindsight as an ironic statement: “trust me, it won’t last”.
Over 1 billion users and a value of $325 billion later, Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking service is showing no signs of slowing down (Dad has since gracefully admitted that the enterprise has had a longevity he couldn’t have anticipated). In fact, you’d be hard-pressed not to find a website – be it for a business, publication, petition, non-profit organisation, etc. – that hasn’t incorporated the increasingly familiar thumbs-up icon on their web page. What started out as an online college yearbook went on to become a network that has connected most of the world to the point it is now a ubiquitous presence in our lives, both personal and professional.
All of which makes you wonder where Zuckerberg can take his social enterprise next. As highlighted in a recent article in The Economist Facebook, like Google, is an empire built on users’ personal data (Google knows what we search for, while Facebook knows all about our friends and interests), so it would make sense to harness this ever-growing wealth of information to offer new services that will attract even wider audiences.
With this in mind, AI (Artificial Intelligence, to the uninitiated) seems like the next logical step. By crunching the vast amounts of data users input on an hourly basis, Facebook is already using AI for identifying friends in photos, or determining which status updates and ads to show on each user’s newsfeed. What Zuckerberg is pushing for next is AI chatbot programs capable of interacting with users via Facebook’s Messenger service, an innovation which would have a significant impact on CRM practices and B2C communications.
But it doesn’t stop at AI – Facebook’s recent $2 billion investment in Oculus proves that VR (Virtual Reality, non-believers) is high on Mr Zuckerberg’s priorities’ list. Sure, the clunky looking headset may currently feel like a gimmick of the gaming industry, but some experts are ready to bet that this technology could be an early preview of where computing and communication will go once the age of the smartphone has come to an end. Web searches, online purchases, social networking… VR may well be the future platform where all these actions take place in the not too distant future. And if anything, Zuckerberg’s proposed design of VR headsets look far sleeker than what’s currently available.
Love it or loathe it, Facebook’s impressive evolution from scrappy student-backed start-up to influential technological giant is undeniable. Mark Zuckerberg stands shoulder to shoulder with prominent industry spokespersons like Bill Gates and Tim Cook, his announcements and innovations capable of affecting business strategies around the world either directly or by association. We’d all better pay attention to what he has to say.