Why Facebook shouldn’t try to buy all the things

Last month I posted a theory on how Facebook might get taken down by competitors. From Taking down Facebook, piece by piece:

Facebook is in a classic position where, as a dominant provider of horizontal social services, it is in danger of being taken down piece by piece by several vertical players who provide specific, narrow experiences very well. Facebook has become a social media firehose. It won’t be replaced by another firehose, but by a bunch of different cocktails that users can customize as they please.

Over the past few weeks, a couple of things happened that appears to back up that theory. First, there’s The Guardian report Teenagers say goodbye to Facebook and hello to messenger apps:

Their gradual exodus to messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat and KakaoTalk boils down to Facebook becoming a victim of its own success. The road to gaining nearly 1.2 billion monthly active users has seen the mums, dads, aunts and uncles of the generation who pioneered Facebook join it too. No surprise, then, that Facebook is no longer a place for uninhibited status updates about pub antics, but an obligatory communication tool that younger people maintain because everyone else does. All the fun stuff is happening elsewhere.

And then, of course, there is yesterday’s news that Snapchat Spurned $3 Billion Acquisition Offer from Facebook:

Facebook is interested in Snapchat because more of its users are tapping the service via smartphones, where messaging is a core function. Facebook has rapidly increased the share of its revenue coming from mobile advertising, but said last month that fewer young teens were using the service on a daily basis.

Perhaps trying to acquire all their vertical competitors is the wrong approach for Facebook. Ben Evans summed it up very well in Instagram and YouTube:

So buying Instagram certainly looks like a good trade — it would be worth a lot more if it was selling today. But as a strategic move, it’s looking increasingly irrelevant. Is FB going to buy WhatsApp, Snapchat, Line, Kakao and the next ten that emerge as well? Sure, some of those will disappear, but it doesn’t look like FB will crush the competitors the way it did on the desktop. On mobile, FB will be just one of many.

Just maybe, Facebook might have been better off rethinking the core product instead of buying what turned out to be just one of a swarm of alternative services.

That last sentence is key. Instead of trying to expand their territory, Facebook should fortify their core product and defend that territory to the death. Even though everything was different in 2009, I think the conclusion I drew back then in Why Facebook should forget about Twitter still holds true:

So here is my advice to Facebook: go where your users are. Understand how they use the site, what their needs and behaviors are. Go visit them, talk to them, watch them navigate around, understand why they are there in the first place. And then enhance your platform to fulfill those needs. Build new ways to feel closer to the people in your life. Make it easier to share and discuss media. Build families-only mini-communities. Who knows what you can come up with if you just understand your users and build a web site for their needs?