Roger McNamee is a smart guy and a very successful investor as a co-founder of Elevation Partners. He made a breakfast presentation last month at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles that is well worth watching. I could probably get half a dozen columns out of this one speech, but the part I want to concentrate on here is McNamee’s claim that when it comes to social media, Facebook (in which he was an early investor) has already won. I’m not here to say Roger is wrong, just that I am not exactly sure what Facebook is winning.
The core of McNamee’s speech didn’t have to do so much with Facebook as with Microsoft, Apple, Google, and HTML5. His point was that Microsoft is going down and that is freeing-up money from a decaying enterprise software business that can go to support new businesses based on HTML5. Google won’t be the beneficiary of Microsoft’s fall, according to Roger, because they’ve lost, too: the mobile transition effectively eliminates Google’s tollbooth on the Internet because smart phone users hardly search at all. So Apple wins by providing all the devices and Facebook wins, I guess, by providing the most popular destination.
Again, I’m not saying he’s wrong, but what I took away from this speech was first an image of Microsoft as the Roman Colosseum being mined for marble after the barbarian invasion, and second a sense that while Facebook is certainly a huge social, cultural, and business phenomenon, I just don’t see it being around for very long.
Facebook is a huge success. You can’t argue with 750 million users and growing. And I don’t see Google+ making a big dent in that. What I see instead is more properly the fading of the entire social media category, the victim of an ever-shortening event horizon.
Each era of computing seems to run for about a decade of total dominance by a given platform. Mainframes (1960-1970), minicomputers (1970-1980), character-based PCs (1980-1990), graphical PCs (1990-2000), notebooks (2000-2010), smart phones and tablets (2010-2020?). We could look at this in different ways like how these devices are connected but I don’t think it would make a huge difference.
Now look at the dominant players in each succession – IBM (1960-1985), DEC (1965-1980), Microsoft (1987-2003), Google (2000-2010), Facebook (2007-?). That’s 25 years, 15 years, 15 years, 10 years, and how long will Facebook reign supreme? Not 15 years and I don’t think even 10. I give Facebook seven years or until 2014 to peak.
Does this feel wrong to you? Listen to your gut and I think you’ll agree with me even if we don’t exactly know why.
Roger may not care since he will have already made his Facebook fortune and then some. But I think this foreshortening is important because it makes Facebook the winner, yes, but the winner of what? Super-IPO of the decade? Yes. Dow-30 company of 2025? No.
My interest is in what follows Facebook, which I think must be its disintermediation by all of us reclaiming our personal data, possibly through our embracing the very HTML5 that Roger loves so much. The trend is clear from “the computer is the computer” through “the network is the computer” to what’s next, which I believe is “the data is the computer.”
You’ll notice I didn’t mention Apple. Black swan.