Facebook Doesn’t Want To Be Cool, It Wants To Be Electricity

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Critics say Facebook is doomed because it’s not cool to teens anymore. But Mark Zuckerberg said he doesn’t care about Facebook being cool, because now its goal is to be a ubiquitous utility.

“Maybe electricity was cool when it first came out, but pretty quickly people stopped talking about it because it’s not the new thing, the real question you want to track at that point is are fewer people turning on their lights because it’s less cool?”

No, because it became essential to modern life, Zuckerberg implied in his talk with The Atlantic editor James Bennett in Washington, D.C.

Most critics decrying Facebook’s loss of swag cite anecdotes from random teenagers, or surveys that may be biased because teenagers want to seem cool by pretending they don’t like or use Facebook. Yet none of this is real evidence that Facebook has seen any meaningful loss in engagement.

Facebook, meanwhile, has consistently denied the claims of teens ditching the social network on earnings calls, with Zuckerberg most recently saying “based on our data, that just isn’t true,” and followed up saying teens have remained steadily engaged with Facebook this year.

Zuckerberg believes Facebook is effectively “post-cool” — insulated from trends, and, to some degree, its competitors. Zuckerberg joked “People assume that we’re trying to be cool. It’s never been my goal. I’m the least cool person there is. We’re almost 10 years old so we’re definitely not a niche thing anymore so that kind of angle for coolness is done for us.”

Zuck Wide Angle

Instead, he says he wants to create something that’s a basic necessity. Responding to Bennett, Zuckerberg says that every economic epoc builds a new fundamental service like electricity. “Our society needs a new digital social fabric,” explained Zuckerberg. “We can help build it.”

When Bennett pressed Zuckerberg on the potential trade-offs between transparency and privacy, he argued that “I tend to think of it as a net positive”. Forced to decide between hiding information and “the choice to be connected to people they care about,” users will tend to shift towards more sharing.

By many counts, Facebook is succeeding at growing users and getting them to share more often. It has 1.15 billion users and 699 million use it daily. He also said today that 50% of social apps use Facebook for login.

For now, Facebook’s biggest threat isn’t being usurped by some hip new social network, but stagnation. It must relentlessly hire visionary product builders, designers, engineers and businesspeople. When necessary it must acquire the companies where this talent resides. And it must do everything it can not to get too comfortable. Because eventually a massive shift will come that could wash away much of today’s web. Facebook will either see it coming and build or buy to adapt, or stubbornly stick to the old ways and be made irrelevant like Myspace.