Mark Zuckerberg strikes back: Facebook plus Skype fights Google+ coup
July 6, 2011 by Beatweek
Mark Zuckerberg managed to bring the focus back to Facebook today after a week owned by Google+, even though he didn’t really have anything worth announcing. At a press conference attended by dozens on-site but viewed by tens of thousands online, the Facebook founder rolled out features like group chat and Skype video calls to a collective yawn. Worse, these features will be implemented through Facebook.com in a Don Quixote-like attempt to stretch the outdated web browser concept even further beyond its limits, rather than offering them through any kind of Facebook app for computers or mobile devices. And perhaps worst of all, Zuckerberg was about as nerdy and boring as one might have expected – but if his intention was simply to get people to remember that Facebook is the most relevant and popular social network while Google Plus thus far consists largely of unfulfilled hype, he may have achieved his goals nonetheless.
Zuckerberg at times appeared to be attempting to channel Steve Jobs in his presentation style. But too often he lost sight of the fact that most of his online audience members were from the non-geek general public, and instead attempted to play to the level of the geek journalists in the room. One of his early PowerPoint slides actually used the word “logarithm” in it, which caused an instant dip in the number of online audience members (and probably managed to bore even the math geeks in the room). Still, Zuck came off as far less calculated and far more human than the “autistic Darth Vader” manner in which he was portrayed as in The Social Network, so his decision to speak before his user base may have helped his reputation more than it hurt it; we’ve already accepted that he’s an insulated geek, we’re all still just trying to figure out whether he’s a trustable one.
Unfortunately, the actual Facebook product announcements were as misguided as they were outdated. Group chat and video phone calls belong in a web browser about as much as a jet engine belongs in a Ford Focus, and it’s borderline bizarre that Facebook is still attempting to pack more into the Facebook.com web browser experience even as the app revolution is already well underway. It’s not clear whether Zuckerberg doesn’t understand that apps are the future, or whether he and his company just haven’t yet figured out how to monetize the Facebook app experience as thoroughly as they have the Facebook.com experience. In any case, in the battle between those who were hoping today’s event would bring a Facebook iPad app and those who were instead looking for a Facebook desktop app for Mac and PC, both camps lost. Who won? Skype. We think. Or maybe logarithms.
From a product angle, in terms of consumers tech companies holding press conferences, today’s Facebook event might have been the worst since Steve Jobs once held an Apple event to introduce iPod socks. But if the intention was to quickly throw together an event, any event, in the hopes of reminding the public and the tech journalism community that Facebook is indeed still on top and Google+ is still a comparatively barren landscape in bug-testing mode, mission accomplished – for a day.