Benedict Evans has a tremendously good analysis of Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp up that’s highly worth reading.
It’s a wonderful analysis of Facebook’s motivations, but in my mind, here’s the most relevant idea for thinking about the future:
Mobile social apps are not, really, about free SMS. Mobile discovery and acquisition is a mess — it’s in a ‘pre-pagerank’ phase where we lack the right tools and paths to find and discover content and services efficiently. Social apps may well be a major part of this, as I discussed in detail here. These apps have the opportunity to be a third channel in parallel to Google and Facebook.
It’s such an important notion that I’ll reemphasize the important part here:
[mobile] is in a ‘pre-pagerank’ phase where we lack the right tools and paths to find and discover content and services efficiently.
That’s it. Let that roll around in your head a while.
Pagerank/Backrub showed up in 1996 in technology as a way to make sense of the chaos of the web and what it was becoming. The web seemed very large to folks then, but as we know now, it was really a tiny, tiny fraction of what it would become.
Google incorporated 2 years later in late 1998. It would take several more years for search to become the ubiquitous and dominant way for most people to interact with the web, and then a few more after that for Google to win. It’s hard to remember now, but it was a bit of a breakthrough in 2004 when Firefox & Opera built search into the browser at a mostly equal footing with direct URL navigation. That’s only 10 years ago, and nearly 8 years after Larry & Sergey started thinking about how to get real ranking signal from the noise that was the web.
And mobile today, and the promise of what is yet to come, is so much more massive than what we saw with the web. So many more people. Connected more often. To more of their friends. And more of the things in the world connecting too. Orders of magnitude bigger.
But it’s also more fragmented, more siloed. Backrub was possible because links were open & inspectable, and the web was crawlable by anyone.
That isn’t really the case for mobile yet. Much of the content & services & connections is all locked up by the big, sophisticated players. So data is more fragmented, more separate. And less mash-uppable. So we got apps, and daily/hourly engagement with billions of people. But we haven’t figured out how to sort it yet. Haven’t figured out how to find & share.
That’s why network platforms like this are so critical, and so important for the future.
Mobile & connected is so much bigger than the PC web ever was.
We are in a pre-pagerank phase of mobile.
Such a profound statement, and so, so, so much opportunity implicit in that very short sentence.