What should Facebook build next?


I was speaking to a friend of mine one morning and we started discussing about what should Facebook build next. Though we had a good conversation, the thought didn’t leave me. I kept thinking what I would do if I was the head of product at Facebook. I thought about giving a framework to approach this question.

Facebook essentially is a social network and operates in advertising space for its business model. The number of users on its platform and the strength of its network i.e. the amount of time these users spend on Facebook differentiate Facebook.

So if I were a product manager at Facebook, I would see the opportunities in these two areas:

  1. Acquire as many users as possible
  2. Get them engaged as much as possible on the platform

Let’s discuss each point:

  1. Acquiring users:

I wouldn’t spend too much time discussing this, but will talk about a few innovative ways that Facebook is already taking to acquire new users.

Facebook has people from most of the developed countries and parts of developing countries on its platform. It has over 1.3 billion out of 7 billion people on this earth on its platform. The challenge now is getting people who are not online or who don’t have computers.

Facebook has been solving this problem with some innovative ways:

  1. Sending low orbit satellites in the space to make internet available to remote areas of the world
  2. Creating light apps such as Facebook lite to help users with low bandwidth and not as advanced smartphones get easy access to Facebook. (Note: Phones have higher penetration than computers in developing countries.)
  1. Engaging users:

This is an interesting problem to me as a product manager. A lot of new product features are built to get users engaged on Facebook. A few examples are Facebook Messenger (to replace your text messages), Facebook Paper (to replace your news apps), Facebook Pay (to replace your online payment platforms aka PayPal, Venmo) etc.

As I said earlier, Facebook would want their users to use the platform for anything and everything and would want them to visit Facebook every day i.e. increase daily actives. Some of the recent features that they have launched to make this possible are “Memories this day from the past years”, recommending articles/videos in the news feed based on what you view, Facebook Pay etc. The way I see it is, ultimately, Facebook would want to be its users’ digital identity and would like all of its users’ online activities to route through Facebook. If you think about 8-10 years in future, Facebook will be in a strong position if people thought their Facebook profile as their digital identity, basically replacing phone numbers, replacing personal email, integrating with all activities done online etc. Think about it this way – you meet a new person, and instead of exchanging phone numbers, you exchange your limited Facebook profile; instead of asking for email address, now you can communicate with this person directly on Facebook messenger with your limited profile; instead of paying online using your credit card or Paypal, you pay with your Facebook profile. Essentially, you will maintain different profiles on Facebook based on the activities that you do.

I know it’s a big task for one company to do all of these, and hence acquisition might be one of the ways to make it possible.

Some of the immediate features that I can think about to get people more engaged with Facebook are:

  1. Video calling
  2. Recommending purchases/gifts based on the events that the users are planning to attend
  3. Creating limited Facebook profile as a start to creating Facebook online identity for everyone

Some ways to know what to build next will depend on the way the users are using the existing features:

  1. Facebook pay: I assume people were already talking on Facebook messenger about exchanging money. Performing quick analytics like word cloud would have given Facebook an idea about other tools that their users use the most outside in a given context.
  2. Video calling: Similarly, it will be easy to understand how many people initiate messaging on Facebook Messenger to follow up with a phone call. This will provide some insight into users’ behavior. This can be coupled with user research to hone on the problem that Facebook would want to solve, and if video calling is the right feature to build.
  3. Purchases: Again, Facebook can do user research to understand the buying pattern related to the Facebook events that users attend.

Along with running analytics on the existing features and user behavior, understanding the opportunity will be critical to deciding what features to build – either the feature can make the platform more engaging or it can make more money for Facebook.

As a last point, I personally believe making experiences tighter based on users’ online activities will make Facebook a stronger platform with high user engagement. There are a lot of smart people working at Facebook, and I am excited to see new products from Facebook. To start with, I am thrilled about Oculus Rift, and waiting to see their first product.

Update: Facebook has already started building features that will replace your phone numbers. Here’s an article that mentions this – http://www.pcworld.com/article/2998367/software-social/facebook-message-requests-wants-to-replace-your-phone-number.html


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