In its current implementation, Facebook has done a phenomenal job of connecting people who know each other, people who may know each other and people who want to know each other. After reaching hundreds of millions of users through quick identification of potential future trends, it is my belief that the best way for Facebook to continue to grow may come from connecting people not with who they already know or who they think they want to know, but instead with people they “should” know, meaning the ones they do not even know of, but that can help them advance in their personal or professional life.
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The problem with “want”, is that it is more likely to be what one thinks they want, rather than what one actually wants. Our ability to define what we want is challenged by our need to project, to the world and to ourselves, a certain public persona that is, quite often, very different than who we actually are.
A decade ago, when I was in charge of AOL’s Music Now service, it became evident to me that people had both a private persona and a public one. In their public profile, people would state that they liked the hottest bands and singers, but their private playlists would reveal that what they actually listened to was completely different. A few years ago, as president of dating-focused social network Badoo, I noticed that even when it comes to physical attraction or love, users would explicitly specify what kinds of people they were looking for (for instance, tall, dark, and handsome) which were very different from who they were actually looking at (short, pudgy, with a sense of humor).
A couple of years ago, I launched Quiv (whose corporate name is Quiv Inc.), a service that allows people to connect with someone they would like to pick the brain of, meet or talk to, in return for a donation to that person’s charity of choice. Here too, the real challenge we are facing is that people want to connect with famous people they have heard of, which are not necessarily the right people to help them. Everyone wants to get sage advice from Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. But, sadly, even if they wanted to, Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Musk do not have enough time to answer all these people and even if they did, their time would be far too expensive for regular people to afford. They also may not be the best people to give advice to every different person. In other words, a young entrepreneur looking for advice may get much more value from someone who is anonymous yet specializes in their specific field, than from Mr. Zuckerberg or Mr. Musk. That person would also be much more likely to be able to spend some time mentoring an entrepreneur.
These experiences led me to several conclusions: people want their public persona to be what they perceive to be correct or cool; they tend to behave in a way they believe is in accordance with socially accepted norms, disregarding their own personal desires; people are not fully aware of what they actually want; and, lastly, they are not able or willing to articulate what they actually need.
So, the challenge is to create a system that understands what a person needs—when, quite often, they either do not know what it is, or are unable or unwilling to articulate it—and matches them with someone who can provide them with actual value.
Facebook has copious amounts of data representing human behavior based on what people do proactively (as in posts, comments, etc.), actively (clicks, likes, shares, etc.), and passively (views and time spent consuming certain content). This data could allow Facebook to figure out two derivatives of human behavior: how people wish to be seen based on what they perceive is the correct way for them to appear to others and—this being the holy grail—who people really are and what they really want. Based on these insights Facebook can know, better than the users themselves, how to connect them to the right person. This could mean connecting entrepreneurs with the right mentors, founders with the right investors, travelers with tour-guides, companies with consultants and advisors, vendors with service seekers and even finding the perfect pen-pals.
Ultimately, it may even be possible for Facebook to help people find their ideal romantic match.
Amit Shafrir is a consumer internet and mobile entrepreneur. Mr. Shafrir is a former AOL executive and co-founder and CEO of Quiv, a service that connects people with mentors in their field in return for charitable donations.