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Facebook Messages: Time-Value Innovation Trumps Feature Innovation

Facebook Messages may lack some features, but it more than compensates with what most people really want–relevance to their time-starved lives. By making messaging streamlined and more meaningful, Facebook has increased its Time-Value and, ultimately, its attractiveness as a customer time magnet.

Some technology purists have derided Facebook’s new messaging platform as “meh” because it does not include innovative new features that one-up Google and other unified communications platforms. My view is that Facebook Messages may lack some features, but it more than compensates with what most people really want today – relevance to their time-starved lives. By making messaging streamlined and more meaningful, Facebook has increased its Time-Value and, ultimately, its attractiveness as a customer time magnet.

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E-mail is a time alternative Facebook simply couldn’t ignore. We often think of Gen Y as “The Facebook Generation” and Baby Boomers as “E-mail dinosaurs,” but such simplistic distinctions don’t reflect reality. The study I shared in my last post shows that everyone, including Gen Y, checks their e-mail more frequently than their social media pages. E-mail ranks highly as well in overall time spent: A study by Nielsen found that consumer e-mail is second only to social networking and games. Add in the workplace, and e-mail wins over social media, with 3x the amount time spent, according to a People-OnTheGo study. Boomers and seniors are some of the fastest growing adopters of social media so integrating e-mail is a natural fit.

Relevance and Greater Time-Value vs. More Features

Assessing time-alternatives (rather than competitor functionality) is a key component of Time-Value Innovation. The table below highlights a few of these differences:

More Time is More Money – A Law of Time-onomics

More time means more monetization opportunities-that’s one of the Laws of Time-onomics. If Facebook can bring even a fraction of user email time onto its platform, it can generate more revenue, whether by extracting higher fees from advertisers or by taking a percentage of revenue from applications. The war over scarce time and attention also explains why Google and Facebook have been tussling over data and creating competing partnerships with companies like games creator Zynga-both Google and Facebook want users spending game time on their platform.

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A Frictionless Way to Increase Relevance and Users

It’s not feasible for every company to be a user time magnet; consumers have too few hours in the day. Facebook is one of the lucky few firms that is both a time magnet, and brings legitimate added value to messaging in a number of ways:

The Social Filter: Facebook Messages includes a social inbox that triages messages for the user. Busy users who have a well-defined Facebook social graph will gain significant value in the form of efficiency, since the social media filter ranks messages based on social preferences. This built-in ability doesn’t require time to configure, making Facebook Messages the first new truly value-added messaging platform since Gmail. The social filter is also self-reinforcing; those who want to increase their efficiency will enhance their social graph.

Creating A Favorable Time-Value Tradeoff: Facebook Messages saves time for the user in a number of ways. It makes the user’s transition to its platform relatively frictionless, creating a more favorable Time-Value Tradeoff. It also consolidates many types of messaging, which simplifies the transition from email to other, more immediate, modes of communication such as SMS and IM. Users save time and attention with that integration. Facebook gains from having the user check in more often.

Ultimately, an integrated user environment will change the way people integrate e-mail into their task flow and will give Facebook an advantage in introducing new forms of collaboration in the future.

Implications

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There are a few implications of this announcement that I will explore in future posts:

Who’s Triaging Your Attention? Creating a “walled garden” where people spend more time allows Facebook (and your social graph) to triage your attention. Who do you trust to allocate this scare resource for you?

Managing Multiple Social Identities: People who use Facebook for business and have thousands of contacts may find that the social graph doesn’t filter enough for them. Facebook Groups currently requires more time to manage and set-up than most people are willing to invest, resulting in a poor Time-Value Tradeoff. In the future, Facebook may be in a position to solve this tough problem if it has access to contextual data to create default groupings.

Privacy Concerns: Privacy concerns about Facebook may detract users from joining the system and sharing information. What happens when someone not on the system (desiring privacy) sends an email to a facebook.com user? Do they lose rights to their information?

Avoiding Time Addictions: Some users will run the opposite way in order to avoid losing control of their time on Facebook.

From Functionality Innovation to Time-Value Innovation

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In the past, product and service innovation was all about feature one-upsmanship. Today, the opposite is true: it’s about Time-Value Innovation – creating relevant information and task streamlining that results in favorable Time-Value Tradeoffs. That’s what today’s time-starved, always-connected customer wants.

Library Journal says Adrian Ott is, “revolutionizing marketing by adding the concept of time.” She is author of the new book The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy and CEO of Exponential Edge® Inc. consulting. Follow Adrian on Twitter at @ExponentialEdge

©2010 Exponential Edge Inc., All Rights Reserved

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About the author

Adrian Ott, award-winning author, speaker, and CEO of Exponential Edge Inc., was called “one of Silicon Valley’s most respected strategists” by Consulting Magazine. She helps relentless visionary executives to foresee disruptive opportunities and accelerate market leadership

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