[This fragment is available in an audio version.]
In the last few days my fear of Facebook has been ramping up and in my mind the case for breaking it up got stronger. What happened was, I sold the old family minivan on Facebook Marketplace and it’s a juggernaut.
We bought a reasonably-well-equipped Honda Odyssey in 2007, a few months after our second child was born. Minivans, they really do the trick when you’ve got multiple kids. It’s carried little-league teams and birthday parties and construction materials and everything the family needs at the cabin for a week. It’s taken the two-day drive over the mountains and across the Prairies to Saskatchewan, twice. It ain’t sexy and it ain’t sleek, but if you’re gonna spend a lot of hours schlepping stuff and kids around, there are way worse places than the big high comfy driver’s seat.
Anyhow, we don’t need it any more — our kids are 21 and 14 — so we decided to sell it. Since it’d been driving kids around, it was plenty grungy inside, so I got it detailed inside and out. When I picked it up from Ahmed the car-detail dude I said “This puppy’s going on Craigslist this afternoon.” Ahmed said “No, man, put it on Facebook Marketplace, it’s ten times better. Anybody in the business will tell you the same thing. Hussein over there just sold a bunch of snow tires the same afternoon.”
The experience · So I did; thanks, Ahmed. The listing experience is excellent. It got me to give it the VIN and from that it filled in the model, make, year, and so on. It knew what region the listing should focus on. Upload a couple of pictures and write a blurb and you’re done. It wondered if I wanted to promote the listing, starting at $4, but I bypassed that.
[Maybe worth noting: I don’t use Facebook except for a couple of affinity groups, but I do hit those a couple times a week, and I have one or two occasional contacts that want to chat with Messenger. So my Facebook account is kind of up to date, in case that’s relevant.]
I listed it Thursday afternoon. Facebook says nearly a thousand people looked at the ad, and thirty or so reached out to me. The outreach comes through FB Messenger, with the person’s face replaced by one of my van pictures. I made dates with seven people to look at it, five showed up, the fifth bought it, and we did the papers and money Monday evening.
Running everything through Messenger was clever, although I found it a bit overwhelming on my phone, really needed to use a big-screen browser to stay on top of the traffic. Here’s an interesting sidelight: When I eventually marked the deal closed, which you can do right there in the chat, all those people vanished from my chat history.
I learned a few things. First of all, I carefully researched prices by looking at comparables, set a reasonable price, and stuck to it. Probably could have sold faster if I’d put it like 15% higher and been willing to come down — people really want to bargain.
Basically all the people who showed up to look were pleasant. There was this one pair of dudes who were grumpy but they had made the best offer until the fifth party took it. Another guy was fresh off the boat from Taiwan, almost no English but he din’t let that bother him, had a translator app on his phone and we got along. On the test drive he scared the crap out of me, driving like a madman.
Why worry? · I mentioned to a couple of the folks that I’d never sold anything on Facebook before and wow, it worked pretty well. They smiled at me understandingly — old guy, they were thinking, not Internet-savvy — and agreed, wondering why anyone would use anything else.
At which point my internal alarm bells started ringing. The Internet does not need the giant Facebook amoeba expanding into online retail. I already believed passionately that we need drastic action ASAP to smash up the Google/Facebook ad duopoly and bring life back to advertising-supported publishing as a category.
Monopolies start small and then when you notice them, it’s usually too late. I don’t think it’s too late in this case.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Dave Pawson (Nov 10 2020, at 23:51)
"old guy, they were thinking, not Internet-savvy " -Did you correct them? ;-)
Oddly, I disagree Tim. Of the few youngsters I know, their view of facebook is quite negative and they've 'moved on' to alternatives.
Implies it will | has flowered and should wither.
From: Lance (Nov 11 2020, at 05:52)
Wouldn't it be nice if Craigslist would actually compete on features and experience?
From: Craig (Nov 11 2020, at 08:15)
Amazing, detailing how FB Marketplace is the current best customer experience, then asserting it shouldn't exist.
Consider that it *couldn't* exist outside of the environment within FB, which could leverage already heavily-invested platforms like Messenger and News Feed.
Would you really be able to make a case to someone like Ahmed that this "ten times better" marketplace is actually evil?
From: Julien Genestoux (Nov 11 2020, at 12:27)
At the same time, the fact that it "worked" so well for you was also probably because it _is_ a monopoly. 2 market places with 50% of the market would each be more than twice as bad as FB here.
Similarly, 1 Google is more than 2x better than 2 .5Googles... etc
This is why I think we need to think about something else than just breaking them down.
In the end, it comes to governance and ownership. These platforms need to be co-operated and co-owned by their users (who, in fact, are the ones creating the value)
I know you will roll your eyes, but this is why I am really interested in crypto networks. In practice, they blur the lines between users, providers, capital and labor more than anything before.
From: RobJ (Nov 26 2020, at 06:24)
Glad I ran into this post. Seems all things FB doesn't cross my radar until much later, mainly because I don't FB (my profile there says "I'm not a product). My 80+ year old next door neighbor bought a mid-60s aircooled VW via FB Marketplace just last weekend.
For myself, I am still dyed-in-the-wool craigslist user. Last weekend, we cleaned out a bunch of stuff in the garage and posted it for free on CL. I got a decent amount of hits, even for stuff like two boxes of movies on VHS (commercial editions, not homemade/pirated stuff). As far as I'm concerned, CL is well alive and kickin'!
From: Vijay (Dec 12 2020, at 00:16)
To those wondering why clamor for breaking up Facebook when their being a horizontally integrated monopoly is what allowed this great CX/UX -- you realize that's Facebook's whole point, right?
The argument you make, that argument that "the best product for the end-user should be allowed to be a monopoly", is the prevailing view for antitrust (at least in the USA), thanks to a man named Robert Bork. The problem with that viewpoint is that, in practice, that leads to stagnation and poorer longer term customer experiences. It's why internet in the states is so awful despite the more-or-less sanctioned geographic monopolies while over in the EU, they get the same speed for fractions of the cost. For more on this, see https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/10/europe-not-america-home-free-market/600859/
Sure, maybe Facebook offers a great experience *for now*. Same holds for Google/Amazon/what have you -- people use them because they're easy, best-in-class, and fast. However, there is no guarantee it stays that way, and history has shown that it tends to not stay that way for very long.
All of this is, of course, leaving aside the inherent ethical and other concerns regarding monopolies, especially in digital spaces where Data is King.