I remember about five years ago back when I was CEO of the Arizona Regional MLS in Phoenix and was building a communications department from scratch. The recently hired communications director was pitching me on new staff positions in preparation for our annual budget cycle. “We need a social media person.” We called it “person” because we did not have a good handle on a descriptive job title – manager, communicator, guru, pundit, mini-blogger – none seemed to click.
I was hesitant. I honestly didn’t think Facebook was all that big a deal for a business entity and Twitter was nothing but an instant message service that had no semblance of privacy. A mini-blog? Who wanted to read 140 character blog posts? “Bah, humbug. It won’t last. Facebook is a flash in the pan. It’s a social toy at best, not a business tool.” So said I, and I was sticking to my guns. But on the outside possibility that I was wrong, we hired a social content manager anyway.
Fast forward to Facebook’s IPO and star status. Twitter became the vehicle for not just social interaction but societal uprising and in some cases revolution. But Twitter may be signing it’s own 140-character death warrant if it can’t convince people it’s safe, secure and unhackable. “It won’t last,” said my redundant self.
Then came the growing litany of privacy concerns, the security breaches, the disclosures, shameful backroom practices and ad-revenue fueled by bad management decisions (like initiating “Likes” on behalf of users or paid Tweet placements). And the legions of imitators.
Finally, research caught up with prognostication. According to Pew Research, millennials have been abandoning Facebook by the millions and new post-millennials have not taking their place. They moved on. Facebook was no longer the newest, shiniest thing to appease their short attention spans. And I was right. Finally.
In looking at Facebook today, I can see why it has not worked from a business perspective either. I have 204 friends on Facebook. There are a lot of them who are not really friends, just acquaintances, but I haven’t found the “Acquaint me” button yet so I have not differentiated the two.
Of those friends, 155 are professionals in the real estate industry; 87 of those are either brokers or agents (licensed and practicing), the rest are supporting (MLS staff, vendors, consultants, etc). Fourteen are classmates from my high school/hometown; five are family members; one is an acquaintance from my former life in television dating back to 1976 in Indianapolis; two are deceased (and no, neither is still posting); and the remaining 27 are unknown (names that don’t register with me as being an acquaintance of any kind). How they got there, I have no idea. Probably an inadvertent mouse click on the “OK” button.
I am not a heavy Facebook user and only look at my timeline a couple times each week, Even though 75% of my “friends” are business associates, 99% of the postings on my newsfeed have nothing to do with business. I‘m not seeing new investment ideas or houses for sale (despite the considerable time and wasted energy expended by MLS Managers everywhere trying to write rules to regulate such advertising – it never materialized). I don’t see new business models being floated for feedback or new product/service ideas being tested for reaction. Instead I see postings of kittens, cute cuddly kittens, doing cute cuddly kitteney things like playing with yarn or hiding in the laundry basket. I see family pictures, birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, weddings, an occasional funeral, and vacation slide shows galore. Frankly, “friends”, I could care less. What a waste of time. Two visits per week to my home page may be too many.
Granted there are some corners in Facebook-land that are actually business oriented and interesting (mostly). The “Raise the Bar” discussion group often has some worthwhile dialog on a burning issue of the day. But it has equal amounts of trivial bovine-caca. The group of classmates from my high school is useful for keeping track of who is still alive and who isn’t. (Last one out of study hall, turn off the lights.)
But for the most part the postings of “Hey, remember when we were young and stupid decided to see if we could fly from the hayloft using trash can lids as wings?” fall into the classification of “don’t remember, don’t care.” As the promised ultimate business communications tool and magic lead generating machine, Facebook has failed miserably. Apparently the younger generations are catching on to this much quicker than the rest of us. For many over 40’s it’s still “Oooooo, shiney!” but for the 39 and under crowd it’s become “Meh!?!”
And just when I started to lean back on my haunches, resting on my prodigious future-predicting laurels, along comes the next bright shiny new thing – Bitcoin.
Facebook at least had some utility for some portion of the population for some period of time. Bitcoin has reached a new level of worthlessness in far less time and with much bigger potential consequences for early adopters and potential investors. Those who think they can strike it rich by getting in on the ground floor of Bitcoin should read any Wikipedia entry that contains the phrase “gold rush” and learn from history. The scary part of the Bitcoin story is it has gone from the obscurity of an internet underground hacker hobby to mainstream in a matter of a few short months.
This raging Bitcoin mania has been sustained despite warnings from well placed and knowledgeable internet veterans such as Robert X. Cringely, who has been writing for InfoWorld since I bought my first TRS-80-III back in 1981, who recently wrote, “Bitcoin is an overrated techno-bubble. Bitcoin works fine for now (sort of), but if you’re thinking about retiring on a big bag of Bitcoins, you can look forward to living out your golden years in a sparsely furnished refrigerator box on the corner of Broke and Why Me.”
And it is already touching our business. One brokerage has announced that it is accepting Bitcoin as payment for real estate transactions. It’s unclear how the seller of said house will react. I suspect the press release was more an opportunistic grab of a brief headline than a real business altering early adoption.
I looked around for some supporting evidence for my theory that Bitcoin is not to be trusted, not to be considered a viable currency, and has no intrinsic value – real or otherwise. I found a number of usable references, but perhaps none more telling than the cover of the first issue of Bitcoin magazine. For those not up to speed on your local terrorist organizations, the masked character and the mantra he holds are the trademarks of Anonymous. Yes, Anonymous, the cyber-terrorists responsible for Occupy Wall Street and coconspirators with Wikileaks.
My plea to any and all who read this is this: HOLD ON TO YOUR WALLET. Don’t get sucked in to what is a going to be a nuclear sized implosion. Bitcoin is not just a hypothetical asset or tradable commodity (like buying a futures contract or selling stock short). Bitcoin is an illusion, created by unknown people in mysterious, spontaneous ways using computer algorithms that no one understands and has value only so long as some other sucker thinks it does.
Bitcoin’s “value” can, and will, evaporate in a heartbeat as soon as the next shiny thing appears on the horizon (or the SEC steps in to regulate Bitcoin exchanges, whichever comes first).
There have been many “virtual currencies,” from Dutch tulip bulbs to the collectable cards used in popular games. Without exception, they have all peaked and collapsed, leaving their owners with worthless inventories.
Please don’t let it last as long as Facebook.
For this post:
Cause: I finally got one prediction right
Effect: Going out on a limb for the next one
I can’t compete with Rob Hahn on predictions, so this one is only posted on Procuring-Cause.com. But please read Rob’s take on what’s unlikely to happen in 2014. We’ll compare notes later.