Let’s talk about facebook. I’m not a facebook user, but I’m familiar with the concept and have followed the IPO drama with a bucket of popcorn.gif. Today I read this thread on HN today. A lot of people are commenting talking about what FB can do to differentiate, monetize outside of ads, etc. My first thought is that it seems easier and potentially more long-term profitable to simply charge for use of the service.
We spend more and more time online. People host gigs and gigs of their personal photos, videos and thoughts on the service, yet no one thinks that this is a service worth paying for. Why? Well, it’s because of the ever-present-on-the-web concept that ads are the avenue to revenue. It’s all free, just with some ads thrown on! I won’t get in to my thoughts on how we got to this mindset that these services aren’t worth paying for. Still, it’s easy to see that the vast user base on earth spends massive amounts of time online but doesn’t consider these service providers worth a penny because they’ve been indoctrinated in a mindset that says everything is free.
Why hasn’t someone put up a competing social network and made it a for-pay or freemium model? There are some, I know (Flickr, LJ). But those aren’t a straight up for-pay social network model. What’s so wrong with that? In fact, I think if it were done right, a social network that came straight out and said, “Look, it’s $100 a year for lots of picture storage, lots of features and no ads” would do well. It would potentially be very well respected and on top of that have a bit of that closed cache that comes with services that aren’t free. It also ties users to the service because they’ve potentially prepaid.
Google+, Facebook, MS so.cl, Tumblr, Pinterest and Twitter are all constantly trying to innovate and create new features for users. Imagine if users were actually paying for services. Further, something like the “GM drops facebook ads because they don’t work” fiasco could be avoided. A user dropping a $20 a month service means almost nothing in singularity and certainly isn’t news enough to be in the WSJ.
Clearly I’m not an expert at running (or in some cases, even using) social networks and it’s completely possible I’m missing something here. But when there are so many legitimate complaints about services using annoying ads, abusing privacy, screwing around with stock offerings and frustrating their users, wouldn’t it make sense that someone has seen this ad-supported social network model and found it “ripe for disruption”?
I’m expecting the very contrary nature of internet commenters to benefit me in this case and give me some links to decent social networks that charge money. Send them along.