Reading List: Facebook as Social Infrastructure

Facebook as Social Infrastructure: Yesterday’s debut of video chat on Facebook was covered to death. These media rodeos are most interesting because it’s a chance to hear CEO Mark Zuckerberg talk. You can tell a lot from the words he chooses and what he emphasizes when trying to figure out the direction of the social giant. One thing that kept popping up again and again was “social infrastructure.” This is a shift from the early days of Facebook when Zuckerberg would describe it as a “utlility.” Partially, this reflects the company’s grander ambitions, and it’s also a way to stay out of the thorny issue of utilities, which are regulated for the common good, a point made to me by The Facebook Effect author David Kirkpatrick. For Facebook, chat is just another stop in converting standalone Web activities — think gaming — from their current version on the wider Web to a Facebook social experience in a parallel environment. That’s what you get to do when you have 750 million users. As Tom Anderson pointed out in a post on TechCrunch, it’s the user base, stupid. Facebook has an audacious vision, and it might just be possible considering the scale it’s achieved. CNET TV

Inside the Oddball World of Groupon: Ever since Google barged onto the scene with its scooters, free food and zany corporate culture, it’s become nearly cliche for fast-growing tech firms to present an offbeat image. Groupon is certainly no different, as it certainly seems to have fostered a bizarre company culture. Vanity Fair has a long profile of the company, focusing in particular on its founder and CEO Andrew Mason. The lede is indicative of where the piece will go, recounting a scene where Mason prepared to give Mayor Michael Bloomberg a pony during a visit. Mason declares Groupon’s corporate-culture goal as to “get weirder” as it grows. We’ve read this before. It’s the story told of Google, Zappos, Twitter, any number of other tech companies. The piece does address the many challenges Groupon faces in turning its startling revenue growth into a sustainable, profitable business. That might not be easily solved through zaniness alone. Vanity Fair 
Foursquare as Platform: There are plenty of reasons to doubt Foursquare. Its $600 million valuation seems outlandish for a company that has little in the way of revenue and 10 million registered users but who knows how many active ones. But the company released one impressive stat today: 500,000 businesses have registered on Foursquare. Signing up, which is free, lets them offer specials and get analytics on who visits their location. Foursquare is following the well-worn path of other large-scale social platforms like Facebook and Twitter in getting brands on the platform and then figuring out (paid) ways to help them get the most out of it. Foursquare clearly hasn’t hit on what that is, although marrying with a daily deals service would appear a no-brainer. Foursquare blog
Tweet of the Day: Razorfish chairman (and former CEO) Clark Kokich is enjoying a different direction in life. Follow him @clarkkokich.

Maybe Hulu Really Is Cable: The cable TV model is pretty sweet. Not only do we pay for it, but we also get tons of ads. Hulu was pressured into coming up with a way of charging its users. CEO Jason Kilar reportedly won out in his fight to keep the service mostly free, but to add a premium tier for back episodes of shows. Kilar’s hunch is apparently paying off. Hulu Plus is set to pass 1 million subscribers. This will bolster the case of Hulu’s bankers to suitors that it’s a credible rival to cable TV, with a large and growing subscriber base and the same on the ad side. The question is whether that will all get scuttled if Hulu’s access to content is interrupted. PaidContent

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