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Ask HN: You have $1BN, how do you disrupt Facebook?
54 points by alexanderdmitri on Sept 16, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 79 comments
If I you were given a billion dollars to disrupt Facebook, how would you go about it?

Clarification: Your objective is to get enough FB users onto your platform over a 2-3 year time frame that more or less will lead to FB's obsolescence. This is intentionally vague to encourage creativity and also question what it is that keeps FB users on the platform in the first place.

Assuming you didn't mean "disrupting" in the sense of creating a product that replaces Facebook, I would spend the money on a relentless negative media campaign.

Buy/cultivate influence with sympathetic publications/journalists or create/acquire your own media presence and just hammer them with every negative thing you can find about the management of the company, the business, the users, the content, anything. Pay moles inside the company to leak sensitive information to you.

Then when/if you manage to bring Facebook's reputation down enough, target advertisers with a coordinated campaign to boycott this "horrible" company.

There's also the power of lobbyists to 'convince' the government that the company is bad in some manner, who might, in turn, start 'probing' the hell out of the company, much of which will be leaked or reported to the press causing massive amounts of negative perception - even if nothing comes of it.

Another is to leverage evangelists with creative donations to lower brand reputation

A long term approach might be to instill agents who are loyal to your cause within the company through hiring. Corporate espionage with the intent of making intentional poor decisions in order to cause harm.

If you manage to bring down FB via coordinated campaign then you invented a product that it's worth 10 times Facebook.

So basically you'd Uber them?

Well if you believe the story that Russia bought a 100k in ads and hit 70 million ppl with them and influenced the Presidential election...then anything is possible.

Beat me to it

Greyball + Hell + Lobby + Aquihire = win

$1B $2B $10B makes no difference. You can't.

Same as when Microsoft billions to "disrupt" Google in search with Bing. Fail.

If it was simply a matter of money then there are plenty of companies with alot more than $1B to spend on stealing FB's business.

When companies fail, as most do in the end, it is usually because not of external reasons but internal reasons - typically the company has grown too dogmatic in its own beliefs about its plac in the world which makes it ripe for disruption and replacement. This happened alot more in the early days of computing when the platforms were in flux - today the platforms are relatively stable which makes for long term stability of those companies that won the "winner takes all" battles.

There was a time, hard to believe now, where it looked very much like Microsoft woud own all computing for the foreseeable future. That didn't last long, and dogmatism and internal politics are to blame for that future not happening as anticipated.

Focus on making the concept of a "social network" less disruptive from a personal standpoint, and more "complementary." There is a wealth of evidence that Facebook, as it exists today, is toxic to mental health and relationships. If you could create a social network that is seamless and complementary to your existing interactions in the physical world, that would be a compelling product.

How to do it? That's the $1B question.

I would say that part of the reason of FB popularity are the features that are addictive and disruptive. Same with IG. They design for addiction. The question then becomes if you do not design for addiction can you achieve success on the level of FB? If you are thinking in a social sense, then I would ask the question: how might we design an app that helps people connect, without being intrusive and letting people really connect?

IG = Instagram? I'm only guessing. The Wikipedia disambiguation page has a lot of expansions for "IG".


1) make a closed beta (so you have to get an invite to participate).

2) willingly promote pseudonym. Enforce as much as possible single profile, but adopt the "circles" concept from google+

3) pay celebrities to get in.

4) pay a weekly $100 to top 50 "most" active users (where you define what "most" active means. instead of one top 50, it can be five top 10). Pay "internal" money for the rest of the top 100. Internal money is a lot, e.g 1USD is 9999

5) pay top 5 celebrities real money too

6) manufacture your own celebrities.

7) pay "internal" money for every bit of information the user provide (location, "taste", purchase made elsewhere). Make is SUPER easy to report.

8) add games where user can spend the "internal" money

9) add dating

10) add cheap content (ala buzzfeed). and longer form serialized fiction (romance, scifi,erotica...).

11) add "chic" content that user have to pay internal money to get it.

12) gamify content access with "limited exclusive" content and other tricks.

13) pay other sites to adopt your internal money as a way to get "digital" stuff.

14) do an ICO for the "internal" money as soon as it has some traction.

15) be heavily "one-handed editorialized" on opiniated content generation, to cover all possible angles.

16) once there is a bit of traction, make sure to have a few "scandals" for people to want to be "inside" your closed world. Stay an invite-only club.

17) Make a paid API to have an "ecosystem" of add-ons ($100 a year). And take a % of payment (only done with your internal money) to incite ecosystem to charge.

Based on history of previous "disruptors" like Microsoft disrupting IBM, Google disrupting Microsoft, Amazon disrupting Sears, etc... the disruption will be accidental and unplanned.

When people try to consciously disrupt an entrenched business with massive inertia like Microsoft of 1990s, it fails. Examples include Netscape (hubris of "the web browser+internet Windows is the new operating system and MS Windows is obsolete") or Linux (cue recurring joke of "1995 is The Year of Linux Desktop!!!"). When your agenda is transparent, you just paint a huge bullseye on your back and fail.

Google/Alphabet for the first time in 2017 is about to pass Microsoft in revenue ($100 billion.) It took Google 19 years to do it. When Google started in 1998, they didn't know they would be working on a thing called "Android" in 2006/2007 that makes MS Windows less relevant -- especially for emerging web users outside of USA. Today, a mobile internet user with a cheap Android phone can check email (GMail instead of MS Exchange), look up encyclopedia facts (Wikipedia instead of MS Encarta CD), look up actors in movies (IMDB instead of MS Cinemania CDROMs), etc. Of course, that list includes Google creating a "launch pad" to other websites (PageRank search instead of MSN as web portal). MSN in 1998 was a small part of Microsoft's business. And things like GMail were not in Google's roadmap in 1998.

You can't disrupt Facebook head on with an obvious goal of disrupting them. Instead, you hit them sideways. You disrupt them by doing something else that doesn't look like you're disrupting them. For example, instead of creating a new "social network", you create a micropayments system that's easier than PayPal or Apple Pay. Or you create an entertainment platform with a "social" component as an afterthought. Maybe one of those non-social networks accidentally becomes a new focal point for social gathering and accidentally disrupts Facebook.

Put another way, the startup entrepreneurs that will disrupt Facebook are working in their proverbial "garage" right now -- but they don't know they will disrupt Facebook in the future. (That's because they're not working on an "obvious" social network.) It's good that they don't know that they're competing with Facebook because if they did, they'd trip over themselves with their ambitions and they'd start a battle they can't win. (E.g. Snapchat losing to Facebook's Instagram.)

Quick and dirty: you buy a tonload of power to DDOS the he'll out of it (;)).

More serious. I think we are nearing the time this could be done. People are getting fed up by facebook. The complaints you hear frequently all focus on no actual content anymore on timelines but just ads and friends sharing news items, other adds, winner actions, etc. Furthermore, privacy is always said to be a concern (though in truth hardly ever is).

My guess is. Attack those. Get real content on. Get people to actually share again their own content instead of others. An keep an eye on privacy.

> The complaints you hear frequently all focus on no actual content anymore on timelines but just ads and friends sharing news items, other adds, winner actions, etc.

To expand on this idea, one problem that has irked me with YouTube (I know we're talking about Facebook, but bear with me) is the decreasing amount of original content, at least from what I see. (I don't actually have objective data about this, only commenting on what I see from recommendation lists and the homepage). There are way too many content farms that just post videos of "Top 10 X" or "Most shocking Y" or "Z things you need to know about ...". It's almost a form of rent-seeking: these people aren't contributing much to the platform, but want to rake in the ad revenue or likes/views. They don't create, only re-arrange.

Objectively speaking, though, Facebook has seen a decrease in original content [0]. People are writing fewer original posts about whatever, and instead just re-sharing things more. It's (in my opinion) a sad trend for any social network; what was once supposed to be about the user has become more about clickbait and celebrities who churn out content.

This was probably one of the greatest contributing factors for me quitting Facebook - even though I had friends from school friended, the platform didn't provide any value in terms of reading more about their lives, seeing the things they were doing or thinking, etc. All they did was re-share clickbait, mainstream articles, or articles that appealed to emotion and "teams" (Democrat/Republican).

If someone out there is to design a competing social network, they should consider explicitly marking posts as "Original" where appropriate. If someone shares disproportionately compared to the amount they write original posts, send them a notification, and possibly scale back their posting abilities so the network doesn't turn into a giant cage of parrots like we have now, just re-posting digital noise.

[0] http://fortune.com/2016/04/07/facebook-sharing-decline/

The big problem with social networks is that their growth and traction are not strongly correlated with initial financial investment.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp all famously started off on shoestring budgets. In contrast, large budgets and huge ambitions are probably toxic to building social networks. Google+ and post-acquisition MySpace are two good examples of this.

As a result, the best opportunity for disrupting Facebook is taking the billion dollars and starting a social media-focused venture capital firm. The firm's goal would be to make it easy and risk-free for college students to create mobile-first social experiences.

Hopefully, some of the seed investments will gain traction, and you should have enough of the initial billion dollars left over to provide significant follow-on capital. Ideally, your most promising Facebook competitors will not need to rely on advertising for several years.

After those several years, your top winners will probably be approached by Facebook's corporate development team... and they'll be offering to acquire your most promising portfolio companies. In order to avoid Facebook winning the final round, you'd have to use your influence over your portfolio companies to block any sale to Facebook. I'm not sure how practical this is because it would probably anger the founders, all their employees, and all other shareholders in the company.

Eventually... ten or fifteen years after your VC firm made its first investment... you might have a portfolio company that could stand up to Facebook.

Or you might not.

If this strategy was a sure bet, I'm sure that Google Ventures and CapitalG would already be halfway there.

I think before anyone is going to be able to "disrupt" Facebook, you need to take their cash cow away from them. DATA.

I honestly believe the future of social media will be such that (a) user data is stored on a user-controlled [owned?] platform (b) user data is then [based on custom rules set by user] distributed to social networks.

Once the data is decentralized any Joe can then build a network and instantly take advantage of data, since the user will simply "flip a switch" and suddenly all of their data can be transferred / added-to the new network.

How does this happen? Users don't care, social network companies don't want to build this.

Maybe someone with $1BN, who wants to "disrupt" social network companies, builds it?

I do think (a) if it existed, and (b) it was simple / reliable / durable / secure enough that users had the option, they would care.

Disrupting Facebook is not an attack on Facebook anymore. Its an attack on consumption culture that everyone is trapped in. Too keep markets growing you have to turn ppl into mindless consumers. That is Facebook's unintended purpose. Facebook or whatever comes next cannot be replaced cause mindless consumers who need to accumulate things and debt are the basis of todays markets.

Create a lottery where the only way to participate is to give up Facebook and join my social network.

Every once in a while (a few months, sometimes once every day, sometimes almost a whole year), there will be a random selection among those who participate and that person will win $1 million.

If you put the money in an index fund, you could potentially do this for a very long time.

The thing that kills Facebook will also take out Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and a large chunk of the internet in one fell swoop.

It's going to be decentralized with zero ads or monetization of user data. Its adoption would be best served with an above-board advertising campaign to decimate the public's view of Facebook. It will also leverage an existing company's technology, and merely be a value-add to that company's core business.

Try to build something that you think is useful or entertaining for the users. Don’t obsess with disrupting a specific company or technology. If FB gets disrupted it will be from an angle nobody expected.

You spend all that money on lobbying politicians about the evils of Facebook. You launch multiple ad campaigns on Facebook to target politicians which, over time, brainwashes them into thinking that Facebook is evil and ought to be nationalized... Pay an army of hackers to leak articles into their feeds.

Campaign to give Americans the same data protection rights as Europeans.

Campaign to have all these different data protection rights rigidly enforced.

Launch a service which takes the best from Fb & Messenger, Instagram & Snapchat (but without a "news" feed), launch a token, reward user activity and new user referals with tokens, generate enough hype and FOMO among key people that enough will start to see a real chance for network effects and thereby for gains in the token value. Sell a narrative of people's right to benefit from their contributions and paint Facebook as greedy beneficiary of 2 billion people's activity for which they don't get anything in return, except a broken democracy.

Keep the good of Facebook, throw out the bad, replace it with better.

The good: Connection to and updates from long-unseen friends, family and acquaintances; community organizing; universality.

The bad: Placing our thoughts, ideas, memories, pictures, opinions and habits into a closed, for-profit ecosystem with dubious ethics and the tendency to meddle with the presentation of that content (and the content itself) like a scolding, self-serving parent. Opaque content curation designed, at best, to maximize advertising revenue.

Better: Placing the above in the hands of individual users: self presentation, feed curation entirely under user control.

Existing technologies such as RSS, open IDs and authentication, blogging software, etc, can, glued together with the right protocol TBD, to allow individuals to have more control over their own data and identity, while still allowing all of the good that Facebook and other social media actually bring to the world. Individuals host their own equivalent of the "Facebook wall" (or hire a host), and can subscribe to other "walls". Posting on your "wall" can have different levels of security - available to trusted audience or public, rather like Facebook is. Only, the user owns it. A free, open-source protocol that emphasizes interoperability and user control would allow devs to create any kind of client that suits them.

Revenue through consultation and marketing the deep expertise that comes from knowing the protocol inside out.

2-3 years is extremely short. 5-10 years is much more plausible. Even then, it's tough; Yahoo and IRC has been disrupted like a decade ago and it still lives on.

What I would do is the Snap or Telegram route. FB's weak link is that everything is too public. People can see things like who has read your message, what groups you like, who you are in an argument with. A medium that is less intrusive and lets you build more tight knit communities will be much more popular.

Another problem of Facebook is that it no longer consists of real world friends. It's about acquaintances, not friends. A social media that is more about real friends can do better.

I would actually attack it from the angle of some kind of community - gaming, certain hobbies, sports groups. Make something with similar features to Slack, Telegram, or Discord, but more suited between friends.

A good hint that it's on the right track is that it should initially be a little repulsive to people who use "acquaintance" or "personal branding" kind of social media, like Twitter, Linked In, Instagram.

I would copy the Wikipedia model as much as possible. Wikipedia doesn't generate nearly as much data but there must be some way to empower the users with it rather than "stealing" it for your own financial gain. We complain a lot about Facebook for good reason, what I'd like to see is a more responsible platform and I think Wikipedia got a lot of that right.

To answer your questions, people are still on FB today because FB keeps buying its main compatitors buy offering up to 20 billion dollars per deal. WhatsApp, Instagram, etc.

How can you compete with that? Well, just say "no" like Snapchat did and cross your fingers because FB would litteraly copy/past your idea. They would use the couple of billions of dollars from your unsuccessful acquisition in order to hire an army of attorneys and to stop you from any legal action.

From another perspective, It's very hard to disrupt a social graph because it's very simple and pure. There's no need for it to be duplicated which is why FB keeps winning since they were the first who really created it. The rest is just about ads, billions of dollars, random features/startups and a lot of rich people. At the end of the day, the real value/data of FB is a very simple social graph.

An automated reward system that pays people not to use Facebook and charges them when they use it.

Take that 1B, give a 1000 startup a 1 million bucks and hope one of them hits. Use gauss to help you out. If it follows some distribution there will be a few 2 or 3 standard deviation company in there.

VCs are doing that all day. Why do you believe this is going to disrupt Facebook?

Because Facebook disrupted a lot of companies and markets using this same strategy.

There already is a Facebook, why are you trying to disrupt it?

Because it promotes bite-sized and current content over depth? A website that's just a personal to-read queue with a share button.

Because its one-size-fits-all approach that's only suitable for a narrow band of life events? A toolkit for making small community forums where moderators control what sort of posting model and user profile they have but users control which of their profiles are visible from each other.

I think this wouldn't actually be that difficult. Lets say it takes ten million to build a Facebook clone. I would take the rest of the money and give it away to the most popular people in the United States. Let's say you give $15,000 to 6,6333,333 and get them to sign something that says they will not use facebook. Eventually everyone wants to be like the popular people and they will wind up joining the service.

I honestly don't see how you could use $1bil to legally disrupt Facebook, it just isn't enough money.

Perhaps you could use that money to start another company, not a competitor, and hopefully turn enough of a profit that one day you'll have enough money to either build a competitor or just buy Facebook?

The only thing Zuckerberg cares about is his company, so unless you can threaten that you've got no leverage on him.

If you have an arbitrarily large sum of money like $1b, you should have the allure and social connections to assemble a syndicate of financiers and acquire the damn thing. I'd de-list Facebook and make it into a not-for-profit corporation.

In that scenario, I don't think it would be impossible to make it vastly more respectful of user rights and still make enough money without charity to cover its operating costs.

If possible invest it in an existing company Facebook can't compete with, for example Wechat/QQ. Use the money to strengthen it's position in neighboring countries where it is competing directly with Facebook and to try to enter poor markets where Facebook doesn't yet have complete market domination (think the places where Facebook tried to introduce Free Basics).

Bribe government to erect a Great Firewall, and block Facebook, citing 'privacy concerns', 'reduction of online harassment', 'support of terrorist networks', 'undermining of freedom of speech', 'bad influences of outside cultures', etc... whatever works best for a specific country ;)

You need to build a new kind of social network. However, $1B won't help you much with that. You only need to build it and get 100,000 within a couple of months and 10x that number every year by becoming very popular because you have built something that people want. Money can only help you so much, it needs to grow by itself.

Create a third party client app that merges and bridges your contacts/feeds/events/etc between facebook, G+, Wechat and whatever. Make it better than the facebook app. Once enough people get accustomed to it, start phasing out facebook by making the experience better for another decentralized network.

Is disrupting Facebook is the end game?

Or you think it's a necessary prerequisite to succeed in some of your ideas?

If it's latter - just follow the implementation of your ideas and forget about FB.

If it's former - it's a worthless goal. Sort of like negative publicity - it just gives more attention (and power) to something you want to eliminate.

I have a dynamic graph visualization library. For too long, we've been content with contact lists. I want to create a dynamic visualization, one that journalists can use to point to referenced people in a story. With a billion dollars, I wouldn't have to do all the development myself.

To follow that up, I would create interactive 4D visualizations of important institutions like congress, and of course the corporate historians could use it to visualize their companies' histories, perhaps sparing us the hassle of filling out job application fields all the time.

Check out Kumu[0], it's similar to what you're talking about.

Also a piece of advice about graph visualizations: never show your user a raw graph vis of any kind, because it's UX suicide. If I had a dollar for every time I've seen CS grads make a force-directed graph vis and think it constituted something usable, I'd be rich.

[0] http://www.kumu.io

1. Keep your money. 2. Wait five to ten years. Facebook will implode on its own. 3. ? 4. Profit.

Start an exclusive social network at a high-prestige, aspirational, regionaly-centered, vital, active, relations-oriented, demographic: HARVARD.

And magnify all the negatives of Facebook.

Read danah boyd's accounts of how MySpace fell to Facebook in the first place.

>> You have $1BN, how do you disrupt Facebook?

You will raise not $1B but $100 BILLION if you can convince investors that you'll disrupt FB. The problem is....you know what it is.

Even with $10 billion it would still be nearly impossible. For example, iPhone/ipod vs Zuna and Bing vs. Google

Google+ vs fb

In theory you could use the money to destroy the data center, like physically get rid of the data, like in MR robot

Give me the money and sign my NDA and I'll tell you all about it.

Buy reddit, add a messaging feature and you're on your way.

Reddit is worth more than 1bn though. Heard they were almost worth 2bn.

You don't need all the shares, only 51%.

I find that hard to believe given their small revenue (<10 mil?) and the many years andchances they've had in trying to montize their audience. dont believe the techcrunch koolaid

Social media app with Top 8

Can I do something illegal?

Create the Kin Foundation.

Buy shares in Facebook.

Guerrilla warfare.

Recreate Myspace.

I can say that early myspace seemed a lot more fun to me because it was somewhat customizable. I recall being able to put html elements, banners, change colors, and make it somewhat unique to my own tastes. As far as I know, there isn't much like that these days, certainly not FB. I think that uniqueness value is missing from today's socials.

From what I remember, the clean, non-customizable interface was one of the main reasons FB surplanted MySpace for a lot of people.

One thing I learned from designing websites is that no one goes to your site for it's artistic design. If your site looks great then it won't hurt. But, if the design gets in the way of accessing the information they're there to find, people will hate it.

MySpace was a perfect example of this, from what I recall.

Wholeheartedly agree. Recreate MySpace with modern technology. Embrace individualism and get rid of conformity and boredom.

This is a provocative question. To make the responses more cohesive, can you define your meaning of "disrupt" for us?

Hi, good point! I added some clarification. It's a little vague, but also intentionally so.

Not remotely enough money to take on Facebook. They'd simply squash you. Google couldn't do it and they have far deeper pockets.

Start paying people to hang out with their friends?

Pay influencers a few grand to join?

What a waste of a billion.

Step 1.) Watch this teaser https://vimeo.com/231250659 and this breakdown https://vimeo.com/231242634

Step 2.) Visit http://www.idol.fund

Step 3.) Send message to contact@idol.fund to get the password.

Step 4.) Get access to pitch deck

Step 5.) Prepare check

I'll not only disrupt them, I'll bankrupt the core revenue foundations of Silicon Valley itself.

nice try, Mark.

show me the money.

First step: ask HN how to do it Who's your investor?

Sorry if that sounded mean. But I don't think the responses to this question are likely to be very useful. It's a hard problem, and if someone actually thinks they have a solution to it, they'd be shooting themselves in the foot to share it instead of finding funding to build it.

Build something that's got most of the well-known features of Facebook, plus/minus whatever you feel like you need to change with regard to privacy, business model, decentralization, etc. You can do all of this for much, much less than $1B. The only thing you're missing is two billion users.

Use the remaining funds to stir up sensational controversies that make people wary of Facebook, lobby governments around the world to harass Facebook, and offer monetary awards to get influential groups of people (e.g. schools) to switch to your platform. Once you've got a bit of momentum, spend the last few million dollars to hire a bunch of shady guys to take out Facebook's leadership and infrastructure -- either physically, with bombs and guns, or virtually, with very powerful malware. By the time they recover (if ever), you're the one who has two billion users.

This is how you destroy a company when you're actually intending to do so.

For the rest of us who don't want to get our hands dirty with guns and viruses, I suspect that $1B and the lofty goal of disrupting Facebook are actually going to get in the way. Facebook won't be disrupted by something that's trying too hard to disrupt them. Zuckerberg will see the competition coming from a mile away and respond with $2B, $3B, or more.

The key is to come up with something that's so completely different from Facebook that they'll have a hard time even seeing you as legitimate competition. You fly under their radar, make no headlines, and refrain from making ambitious statements like "I want to disrupt Facebook" until you've created a whole new market and they can't pivot to compete with you.

The reason the illegal solution above works is because Zuckerberg doesn't expect to be assassinated on his morning jog. Do something that's just as unexpected, only legally this time.

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