Looking at Facebook's recent moves—What's App, Oculus Rift, the death of in-app messaging—the company seems to be in experimentation mode, grasping to find what works and what doesn't. All of these decisions are part of the same overarching (and important) strategy: finding the next generation of Facebook users, as it's becoming clear American youth might have other loyalties.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg—who turns 30 next month—doesn't seem that concerned about Facebook's Great Teen Exodus, thanks to some of the other products (like WhatsApp) he has swallowed up. "Some of these other services might start with teens," he said in an interview with the New York Times.
Zuckerberg also has his sights set on emerging markets around the world: "... I think the age thing is probably not the biggest one I worry about. I'm focused on Internet.org and how to connect all these people. But my life is so different from the person who's going to be getting Internet in two years."
In other words, Facebook's focus and the company's challenge is figuring out how people around the world will use its product in the future. To do that, Facebook sends product managers to emerging markets to research Internet usage. "They learn the most interesting things," Zuckerberg said. "People ask questions like, 'It says here I'm supposed to put in my password—what's a password?’ For us, that's a mind-boggling thing."
Understanding these distinctions will theoretically help Facebook build new products that a larger number of humans around the globe will want to use. "In developed nations, we focus on better-resolution photos or lots of cool, easy-to-use features," Mateo Rando, one of these researchers, told Fast Company last year. "But for a big chunk of the world, the 'killer apps' are really, really simple data-light services" since data plan costs are a big consideration for people living in countries like Indonesia.
As long as Facebook can think up more "killer apps" and services for interested people in emerging markets, the less it has to worry that a bunch of 16-year-olds in California are snapping disappearing selfies instead of updating their Facebook statuses.
Then again, for every wealthy American teen Facebook loses, it has to hook in more less-valuable (in the short-term) customers in developing markets. To advertisers, which provide the network one of its primary sources of revenue, teens with money to burn are more valuable than adults from less affluent countries.
But Zuck doesn't seem too concerned about that.
[Image: Flickr user Chantel Beam]