Amid Facebook's falling stock price, and word that its biggest investor has sold almost all his shares in the social network, Facebook's director of developer products Doug Purdy gave The New York Times' Somini Sengupta a vision for the company, which was surprisingly vague on the advertising part. The future of Facebook involves the following, according to Purdy's interview with Sengupta:
One day soon, he said, the Facebook newsfeed on your mobile phone would deliver to you everything you want to know: what news to digest, what movies to watch, where to eat and honeymoon, what kind of crib to buy for your first born. It would all be based on what you and your Facebook friends liked.
It's all about the user experience, he explains. "There is a tremendous amount of value in here because we’re providing the user experience value," he said. "That means users come back to Facebook. They come back again and again and again. That allows us to show advertising." This sounds like the kind of talk we heard from Facebook before it went public and had to prove it had a concrete way at turning that "user experience value" into dollar value. Here, Facebook is just selling its big, addicted audience, which so far hasn't been enough to justify a $100 billion valuation.
We know that Facebook isn't just concerned with "building the right products," as Purdy puts it, having heard of various advertising efforts the social network has got in the works. There is the Sponsored Stories effort, which turn "likes" into ads. The company is also working closer with brands, giving up more user data for the sake of improving ad-metrics. But Purdy makes it sounds like Facebook is less concerned with making some innovative social ad product, than it is with "making the world more open and connected." He gives the kind of attitude we saw from CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the IPO, when he valued the product over its potential to deliver revenue. But these days even Zuckerberg, the hacker king himself, has started working business speak into his vocabulary.
It's an interesting time to stop talking about advertising, as Wall Street doesn't like the way things have gone with the social network. But perhaps this is a way to remind us of some of the good stuff happening with Facebook. All the advertising talk can only make Facebook look bad. It's either not doing enough to appease Wall Street, or it's alienating its valuable users, who worry that Facebook will give up their data and privacy to make money. Purdy has put the narrative back on a Facebook-approved course—something Zuckerberg can't do himself anymore, since he has to act more like a CEO these days. There has already been some talk that he isn't good at running the business side of things, with some suggesting he step down. But just in case we (and Wall Street) forgot: Facebook still cares about users more than anything else—even (especially?) ads.