Searching for Success

In a press conference, Facebook CEO and co-founder mark Zuckerberg revealed its upcoming ‘modern messaging system’, previously known to the media by the code name “Project Titan”. Some were quick to call it as the e-mail killer, while others perceived it as a Gmail challenger. Considering Facebook’s growing number of users (500 million registered members, with four billion messages sent per day, using the present Facebook messaging service), Facebook has all what it takes to be the next big thing in the e-mail business. All that was required, was to copy the ‘wheel’ and reinvent it on their platform. Simple! So did they nail this opportunity? The answer is a resounding “No!”

On a different note, remember the time when everyone was hooked to Hotmail? Then there was a time when we all were addicted to Yahoo! Mail. But then, along came Gmail with features that met almost all our professional needs; it was reliable, fast and offered a lot more storage space. With all this, why would someone possibly shift loyalties – unless of course something bigger and better comes along. So even if the new service that Facebook is offering is bigger in some ways, it’s definitely not anything extraordinary – or better. In fact, Facebook is not even trying to go there.


Going Against the Tide

With its new ‘modern’ Facebook aims to combine it all – SMS, Instant Messaging (IM) and e-mail – into one fancy messaging service, which will also allow users to have real-time conversations. Now come to think of it, not so long ago, we saw a Web messaging product that tried to do something similar. This product was the much hyped about ‘Google Wave’, which after only few months of its release, was scrapped off by Google. The good thing, however, about the folks at Google is, that they love to experiment, and are never ashamed of their failures. That’s why right after Google Wave, they tried to jump into the social media arena and in order to make it successful, they hooked it up with one of their most famous products – Gmail; but that too failed to create any ‘Buzz’. According to ex-Google employee, Lars Rasmussen (the mastermind behind Google Maps and Google Wave), Google was too hasty to see the results on Google Wave. Was that one of the reasons Rasmussen left Google for Facebook?


Having What It Takes

Experts opine that social media is a small pond for a big fish like Google; it should go after bigger user problems. Similar disapproving comments were posted on a blog post by an Apple fan, who argued that both Facebook and Google have the requisite army of qualified developers; hence they should be utilized effectively. That brings us to the important question; were the above mentioned products not well thought out? Even though Google Wave was a fine example of excellent software engineering, it was a bit ahead of its time? Too bad, the folks at Google were unable to sell it, or in other words, feed it to the audience. Similarly, it seems that Facebook has failed to embrace its users, needs correctly, and has combined SMS, e-mail and IM in its messaging service – a service which may eventually be used by teenagers, non-professionals and just maybe, Gmail users. However, Zuckerberg and his team may fail to lure users who want to keep their personal e-mails separate from their social networking, activities.

So, the question arises what does it take to make a successful product? Is it only about addressing the very basic user needs? When Foursquare was launched, it was not the first product to provide location based check in service.

However, with slight modifications, it was better than its predecessors. Similarly, Facebook was launched after MySpace and Orkut, but it still managed to kill the competition because it was better.

Similarly, before the first iPod was released, Sony ruled the music industry. All these were able to stand out, not only because they met the basic user needs, but also because their strategies were well thought out.

Should a company stick to the domain where it’s doing great? Many companies decided to jump into the social media circus after the success of Facebook and Twitter, but they didn’t achieve similar success (Google being an example). This myth was busted by Apple with the epic success of iPod and Iphone series. This adds another nuance to the previous point; even if your idea is well planned, it won’t succeed unless it’s well executed.

The size of the company does not necessarily guarantee the magnitude of a product’s success. That is precisely why we are witnessing so many startups are hitting off year after year.

So, is there a recipe for a successful product? Of course not! However, considering the success rates of startups, one thing is evident: the need to make new products and services that fundamentally solve user problems exist. And if the Silicon Valley giants won’t solve them, a startup will step up and fill that void.

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