The biggest risk to Facebook and its valuation (SAI 25 #1) is that it’s a fad. But from what I saw in Portugal last week, Mark Zuckerberg and co. need not worry.
I had the pleasure of spending nine days bumming around Lisbon and the Algarve coast, eating lots of seafood and letting my pulse take a rest. (Blogging kills, remember?) To meet people — and save Euros — I stayed in two excellent hostels.
Four years ago, when I spent three months backpacking in Europe, email was crucial. After you made pals with someone at a hostel, a park, a museum, a train ride, wherever, the last thing you did was get their email address. I carried a tiny notebook around in my pocket, and the last few pages were full of random email addresses. Four years later, many of us still keep in touch.
This year, there was a new phrase going around the circuit — mostly at the hostel computers with free Internet access: “Are you on Facebook?” Instead of writing down an email address to write to, you clicked “Add as friend.” (Note: Not MySpace. I didn’t hear that once.) Facebook was almost always the first site I saw people go to after they sat down at the computer — email usually second.
And it makes sense. If you’re spending weeks (or months) travelling around, like many of the people I met, Facebook is a much better communication platform than email. You can blast out quick status updates with your location, send longer messages or wall posts, and put up travel photos (and tag the weirdos you met) — all on one site. Now you can even IM people if you need something quickly. Since returning to the States, I’ve gotten Facebook wall posts and messages from people I met in Portugal, but no emails. And I’m happy with that.
To be sure, many of the people I met were American and Canadian college students or fresh grads — Facebook’s sweet spot. But others who popped the “You on Facebook?” question were Aussies, Europeans, and (gasp!) even old folks in their 30s.
We don’t expect Facebook to replace email. But the more it becomes a required-use utility, the harder it will be for users to turn off.