Facebook has acquihired Branch, an 8-person startup that was trying a bunch of different projects for $US15 million.
Branch was initially focused on getting smart, coherent comments on the Internet. Then it did “Potluck,” which was another way to get people talking about what they were doing.
Neither application had great traction, so it’s going to Facebook. On paper, it looks like a good fit.
Branch is led by 22-year-old Princeton dropout Josh Miller. Miller has the design skills and product ambition to be a great product manager for Facebook. He’ll probably spend 3 years at Facebook before he tries another company. We assume he’ll treat it the way some people treat getting an MBA or a graduate degree.
What’s interesting about Miller joining Facebook is that he’s been outspoken about what he thinks of Facebook. He’s written multiple blog posts on Facebook, and until recently, they were quite negative.
His most famous post was titled, “Tenth grade tech thoughts.” In December 2012, he wrote about his sister’s thoughts on social networks. In the post, he revealed that his sister didn’t like Facebook. She told him, “It’s addicting … you end up getting lost in it and I don’t like that.” She also said that she only goes to Facebook if she’s gone through her entire Instagram feed.
His conclusion from talking to his sister: “Facebook may have an irreversibly bad brand.”
Five months later, he wrote about “The Next Facebook.” This time, he said that Facebook is confronting an intractable problem with mobile. Facebook’s killer advantage on the desktop was that it had your photos, and your contacts. On the phone every app has access to your contacts and your photos, and therefore every app is built a basic level of social networking built in. As he put it, “Smartphones have made your ‘social graph’ portable, without Facebook’s permission.”
In that post he mused about how a new startup would come along to build a way for strangers to have real conversations through the Internet. This was what Potluck tried to do.
Before posting his story on “The Next Facebook,” Miller also attacked Mark Zuckerberg’s lobbying group FWD.us. Miller met with the president of FWD, and said, “FWD.us is employing questionable lobbying techniques, misleading supporters, and not being transparent about the underlying values and long-term intentions of the organisation.”
He also said, “FWD.us effectively bribes politicians,” adding, “given that Mark Zuckerberg and the other technology pioneers who are behind FWD.us have risen to prominence by spearheading disruptive innovations, reverting to such traditional lobbying tactics seems like a missed opportunity for meaningful change.”
By the end of the year, Miller was telling a different story about Facebook. On December 31, 2013, he wrote a post titled, “Why I’m Bullish on Facebook.” That was two weeks ago. Presumably, Facebook was talking to Miller about buying Branch. (We’d be bullish on Facebook too!)
We would also presume that Miller started thinking more critically about the opportunity to join Facebook, and collect a nice pay package for a startup that wasn’t setting the world on fire.
Now, he thinks it’s great that Facebook has all of your friends and family in one place. He says, “For utilitarian needs Facebook’s more comprehensive social network, and access to a greater number of mutual connections, is a huge asset.”
While he’s bullish on Facebook, he isn’t just kissing butt in his last post. He thinks Facebook needs to create valuable standalone brands: “If the next Facebook products are going to be successful, and truly take advantage of the size and density of their network, my hunch is they’ll need to spend as much time working on (new) brand design as they do on product design.”
This explains why there are reports that Facebook will continue to let Potluck operate a standalone business.
It’s good to see Facebook taking in someone that has been critical of the company. It’s good to have another voice that’s thinking about the product and how it can evolve.
We emailed Miller for comment but didn’t hear back.
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