It epitomizes a nimble new breed of leadership that not only embraces but mines real-time change. It requires taking risks, making mistakes and swiftly applying the lessons learned and making innovation paramount.
In one swoop last week, Facebook made itself digital media's de facto location-based platform by launching its new Places feature in partnership with -- and maybe eventually at the expense of -- FourSquare, Booyha and Gowalla, all burgeoning players in the space. Places will be a springboard for a string of seminal applications involving advertising and commerce as well as content and service transactions. These applications, based on target consumers at specific locations, will transform the long tail into a paid proposition. A rewards-based credit payment system can't be far behind.
The fact is, Facebook has been steadily repositioning itself in the location-based social, mobile commerce sweet spot where everyone -- consumers, advertisers, content and service providers -- wants to be.
Zuckerberg and company have demonstrated resolve to get there via relatively swift trial-and-error enterprise. Consider how far Facebook has come from its controversial, short-lived Beacon experiment several years ago, particularly on the privacy front. Its new Places has multiple privacy safeguards Zuckerberg appears willing to tweak in recognition that the premise of Facebook participation is sharing and exhibition -- at the user's discretion.
Ultimately, Places could prove the quintessential digital marketing and selling tool. Every new "place" created becomes a familiar Facebook page from which businesses can leverage their goods and services through the creative use of apps -- the ultimate shortcut to generating revenues. It will all thrive on relevant connections, tracking and catering to personal preferences including geolocations, and securing payments.
So what's the potential?
Facebook ad revenues could exceed $1.2 billion in 2010, according to eMarketer, before taking into account the boost that could come from small business and brick-and-mortar applications of Places in the next few years. That's the lion's share of the $1.7 billion in domestic social network ad spending eMarketer projects this year.
Facebook looks to be a smart phone app away from blowing open new digital dollar pathways if it gets a share of nascent social games, video, entertainment, electronic coupons and purchase recommendations. As the third-most-popular video site on the Web, according to comScore and a major source of iPhone app usage, Facebook is perfectly positioned to cash in. We could soon be talking about real money if global apps reach an estimated $17.5 billion by 2012.
The trick will be reconciling what Facebook's brain trust creatively refers to as "markers in the timeline of our lives" and serendipitous encounters with making ourselves more vulnerable to thieves, thugs and those who prey online. Facebook executives believe giving users clear, complete control of their full service "Place" settings shifts the responsibility and the controversy. A maturing, more confident Zuckerberg observes Places will stir other "interesting sociological issues" and become a lightning rod for developers. "You can imagine a whole world can develop around this," he said.
Before the initial buzz about Places wore thin, Google was defensively reminding everyone that 100 million monthly users rely on its prodding maps to locate friends. The faster and deeper Facebook plows into making social media and mobile commerce profitable, the more it exceeds Google's grasp. Places is a stark reminder of how quickly market leaders, such as Google, can be marginalized in exploding spaces, such as social, geolocal marketing and mobile transactions.
Facebook can dodge what Cisco CEO John Chambers calls "the unusual uncertainty" paralyzing much of America's business by blazing new interactive trails in which investment costs are relatively low. Facebook also can move independently to fill the void between what interactive consumers want, and what they can get. Social may well prove to be the new search.
Of course, there will be rough patches, a learning curve and setbacks. Only about 1.5 million businesses have Facebook pages and slightly more than one-fifth of Facebook members use the mobile app to connect with friends. But the ability of Facebook to reassess, reboot and proactively seize consumer adoption and demand positions it for a potential IPO in 2011. It also keeps Facebook (sadly) in a very exclusive class of founding CEOs, who care more about vision than profits. Just maybe, Facebook will nail both.