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Zuckerberg struggles to name a single Facebook competitor (theverge.com)
117 points by imartin2k on April 10, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 82 comments

I've been listening. His attempted answer was reasonable. Facebook doesn't have a single competitor because they don't have just a single product. Name the "biggest" competitors for Siemens or SAP or Google or Microsoft or Honeywell. They're companies of companies and each unit may have a single biggest competitor but asking for just one feels intentionally misleading.

Disclaimer: I hate Facebook and twitter and Pinterest and Snapchat and whatever the hell else and have no personal investment in this whatsoever. I'm listing purely for the entertainment value of watching zuck squirm.

I fail to see what's misleading about asking for a competitor to Facebook.

Microsoft's competitors are Apple on the hardware and software front, Google on the search engine front, Atlassian on productivity tools front, GitHub on the repository/code storage front, AWS on the cloud storage front, etc. I assume Microsoft's core solutions are their OS, their productivity tools and cloud.

Google's competitors are Yahoo, Bing and Duckduckgo on the search front. Garmin, TomTom and others on the map front, etc. And perhaps everyone on the email front. Here I assume Google's core tools are search, email, and maps.

Facebook's competitors are... Instag- oh right. Uh, Snapchat, I guess?

Facebook is an ad company. The product they sell is targeted ads. As a customer who wants to buy ad space, you can go to Facebook, or you can go to Google, or a myriad of other players.

Yahoo and Bing are not significant Google competitors. They aren't even independent — Yahoo search is Bing.

As a social media user, you're not the customer, you're the product.

I don't believe your statement is complete.

Take a look at all of the companies where a court determined that the company abused its monopoly power.

Every single one of them had "a myriad of other players" in the market.

So the existence of other players doesn't mean that Facebook doesn't have market power, it doesn't mean that FB isn't a monopoly, and it doesn't mean that FB can't abuse its market power.

Only a few hours ago, jwz (who blocks links from HN - fwiw, we are HN products) at https://www.dnalounge.com/backstage/log/2018/04/10.html wrote:

> Advertising anywhere that is not Facebook simply does not work. We keep trying and keep getting nowhere.

> We hear that from other promoters and venues, too: everyone says "Yeah we only advertise on Facebook. Nothing else does any good."

> I hate that this is the case. A lot.

This is the sort of comment you see if a company has market power, where switching to other players is not an option.

If you use uMatrix, you can enable spoofing of your referrer header from HN so the link works :)

That's not the entire story though. Facebook has multiple products and multiple layers of folks to sell to.

On one layer, they offer a social networking site to people, who become users. Then they take the information and sell it to advertisers to make money. Without the social networking site, Facebook wouldn't have its advertising business. There are more, I'm sure (governments are sometimes customers, for example).

There is only light competition for the advertising right now, but I'm going to guess we'll figure that stuff out as time goes on.

As far as the social networking itself, there are options, but none that can replace facebook's user functionality. There isn't anywhere robust enough to make change feasible. Instead, you can replace parts of facebook with other things and get partial functionality Your mother probably won't download a weird app just to talk to you instead of using messenger, for example, and your sister probably won't send you the pictures of the kids as often.

I believe Google also supplies search services for Yahoo.

Snapchat and Twitter on the social media front.

Google on the ads front.

Telegram and Apple (iMessage) on the IM front. (Not sure this one really counts, though. Is IM a "front"?)

I agree that Google is competitor, but I'm not talking in terms of monetization spaces, I'm referring more to the core solution. In fact I'd amend my statement and say Snapchat isn't really a competitor, either. Facebook is basically a rolodex with messaging and storage built in. I don't see anything like it.

Inasmuch as IM is monetized I think it's a front. It's another aspect or facet of social media and we're already making the distinction between microblogging (Twitter Vs Facebook) and photo sharing (snapchat Vs Insta) so I don't see why not?

What's misleading is that the senator kept insisting on a single competitor, not N competitors.

The answers you gave for MS / Google would have gotten the same kind of interruption from the senator.

This, did no one watch it? I'm not even pro facebook, what happened to informed discussion.

You've made my (and his) point and that's what's misleading about the article. He attempted to make that point but was interrupted and pushed for one and only one. Companies of this scale don't have one and only "biggest competitor" because they don't do only the one thing.

Microsoft only competes with Google on the search front? Is this analysis circa 2010?

Lot's of companies compete in lots of sectors. If you buy a Ford van you're not going to go to chevy. But that doesn't change the fact that Ford's primary business is normal cars and chevy competes in that industry. If I ask who MS's biggest competitor is it's Apple. If I ask whose Google's biggest competitor it's probably MS Bing.

Facebook is overwhelmingly known for its social network and it's biggest competitor is probably twitter who problem has ~10% of it's customers.

The point is that none of facebook's competitors come even close to facebook's size no matter which portion of Facebook's core functionality you're talking about. Plus, facebook is not diversified in the way that SAP or Honeywell is.

> Facebook is overwhelmingly known for its social network

But, while this is "how" they get information; twitter and facebook's business is actually in selling advertisements.

The intent of the question should be along the lines of "if a user is pissed off at Facebook as a result of the latest revelations, and wants to move to a competitor, what would they move to?" or a more accurate "Whom are you worried about users moving off of Facebook to?"

Facebook is defined by a single product, more so than even Google or Microsoft.

IRL human relationships.

What a tired trope.

> Facebook doesn't have a single competitor because they don't have just a single product.

Isn't their single product the Facebook website/app? Sure they sell ads but so does Yankee Stadium. From the consumer's perspective the stadium's competitors include Citi Field, not Google Adsense.

> Sure they sell ads but so does Yankee Stadium

But in this case, Yankee Stadium sells seats, and Tv rights (that the station puts ads on)

My point though is, you can call Facebook an advertising company, but when asked "What are Facebook's competitors?" as the Senator did, it makes sense to list social networks because that's the core product they offer their users. For the purpose of this discussion it doesn't help to say Facebook is an ad company or "You are the product" or anything else.

There are a ton of ads in Yankee Stadium (and every major sport stadium I can think of, for that matter): https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/44/Yankee_S...

no, users are their single product.

Then their main competitors are whoever those users would see as an alternative to their products, no?

That has to be myspace

I agree with this. Senator Graham went into this with the totally wrong mentality. Graham tried to determine the answer before the question was even asked. Non-tech conglomerates like PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch, and Johnson & Johnson offer a huge range of different products in different sectors for different purposes.

I bet also that Zuckerberg might have "forgotten" that, in mainstream common sense, Facebook is viewed as "a website and mobile app". As CEO, he is trained to view Facebook as a giant company with a diverse selection of products, not just as a website. So his perspective on proper competition might be quite different from Senator Graham's.

>Senator Graham went into this with the totally wrong mentality. Graham tried to determine the answer before the question was even asked.

IIRC they all had ~5 minutes to ask questions. Not enough time to do a proper cross examination and it gives Zuckerberg the advantage (he can draw out his answers and play for time).

I watched for the some reason but instead of squirm he confidently answered some very poorly worded questions.

The only take away for me is that these senators are not even close to being capable of engaging MZ properly in debate.

It's not a debate.

Reminds me of the Peter Theil quote about monopolies https://youtu.be/bVV26yRjwq0?t=417

Every company which was broken up for abusing its monopoly power had more than one product.

This question, in this context, means something like "in the market where you have the most market power, who are your competitors"?

Competition law has defined what 'market' means for cases like this; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relevant_market .

The question becomes much clearer to answer when you understand that the end-users of Facebook are not its customers.

Facebook competitors are literally every other company that is trying to sell advertising.

Its like saying that "Vogue" is competitor to "Soldier of Fortune", since they both selling advertising.

Its much more nuanced. Advertising offered by facebook is VERY different from advertising slots during Superbowl.

i actually feel that fb and the superbowl are much closer than vogue and soldier of fortune... (but i think your point is reasonable.)

A monopoly determination is made on market power, not the existence of other people in the field.

If I start an advertising company which charges advertisers a blanket $1 per year, I don't affect FB's market power, because I don't have the same reach or same targeting capabilities.

Standard Oil's competitors might have been every other energy-provider company, but that doesn't detract from Standard Oil's market power in subsets of the energy-provider field.

Facebook's competitors might be every other advertiser, but that doesn't mean Facebook is immune from charges of abusing its market power.

dumb. they didnt let him answer the question.

he asked for clarification. were they asking about tech companies, messaging companies, or something else (advertising companies and publishers? they never got to the other categories)

BUT had they been able to ask a clear question, they could have gotten to the point that he doesnt have many messaging competitors (wechat/snapchat/google/skype.) more importantly they could have gone a more standard protocol/decentralization approach and asked him about going back towards intra-messenger inoperability. should facebook messenger be able to talk to skype and hangouts? ALL email providers talk to each other (within reason) and if i leave gmail i can go somewhere else and CHOOSE not to email other people with gmail.

this question should have been about anticompetitive acquisitions and closed/open platforms.

Maybe an inquisitive Congressional staffer reads HackerNews and can get their boss to ask the question tomorrow.


If the boss wanted information, they could get it the normal way. The point of calling someone to testify before Congress is to embarrass that person, and that point is generally not well served by asking sensible questions.

Is it? I think the point is to get more information, to ask questions that have not been asked and decide if the government needs to take further action. They do this by introducing legislation. I think the electioneering has them spooked as well.

The point of most Congressional hearings is to make it appear that Congress is interested and involved in solving a problem. It's theatre.

Yes, there may be genuine concern and a desire to get something done, but that isn't going to happen in front of the cameras - it's going to happen in committee meetings and discussions.

What happened today was the political equivalent of WWE and just about as useful.

The point of public political hearings is PR. To help legislators show voters that they care about whatever crisis is top of news. Information seeking and legislation writing happens in closed door negotiations with lobbyists and lawyers.

I think this is overly cynical. Plenty of politicians care what people think and they do care if companies are acting badly. The lobbyists come in later to defuse the situation. This issue in particular is a GDPR like issue. I see some strong regulation coming. It won't hurt Facebook since they are the social network but it will change the dynamic.

A Senator is the CEO of a decent-sized public policy research and advocacy organization. He steers the ship, appoints senior staff, and handles the most important negotiations and appearances personally. He doesn't get in the weeds on background research. His office is in constant debate, negotiation, and consultation with a complex web of think tanks, advocacy groups, pollsters, campaign operatives, the White House, and other Congresscritters to develop policy and negotiate its passage. There's an entire professional ecosystem of policy wonks and career staffers dedicated to this sort of thing. (Only some of them are corporate shills).

If Senator Graham genuinely wanted to know about Facebook's competition, there would be legions of staffers and thousands of pages of reports on it. If Senator Graham were genuinely not sure what to do about Facebook, there are exceptionally well-informed people in his office to summarize the landscape, the propsals, the pros and cons, and to debate the finer points, who are deeply familiar with everything AEI/Heritage/Cato/Brookings have to say about it, etc. because that's their full-time job.

By the time you hear a pointed question in the committee hearing room or a speech in a floor "debate" from a Senator, they've been over it with staff, decided on a position, and calculated the optimal move to present to the cameras. That you enjoy or agree with the thrust of this particular show has no bearing on the theatricality of committee hearings as a tactic. They wouldn't do it if no one enjoyed it.

It's not that politicians don't debate things in good faith. It's that they do it with and through staff (who are more like the people you find in high school debate than televised election debate), behind closed doors, and not on the floor.

This article has 0 insight. This was the most strategic answer. - A: facebook does a lot of things and it's true it competes across many categories

- B: Admitting competition is bad for wall street, legitimizes them, and turns the narrative into whether that is true or not (you don't want that to happen either)

- C: The senator was obviously trying to bait Mark into saying that they have no competition... why? Easy anti-trust/regulation. He avoided that as well.

Mark took the most strategic path. Sure - it could have been delivered better.

This reminds me of a point well made in Peter Thiel's 'Zero to One'. Monopolies make it seem like they have a lot of competitors to avoid anti-trust and companies that are in a dog fight like to make it seem like they are monopolies in a niche area.

Facebook has effectively a monopoly on social networking. Even further: Facebook can be seen as an essential service for maintaining your social life. Not using it puts you at a severe disadvantage.

I don't think monopolies are necessarily a problem that needs fixing, but call it what it is. Facebook makes decisions based on their understanding of dominance.

If you don't like Ford, you can buy a car that you can't drive on most public roads and even fewer gas stations offer you the type of gas you need.

I dont use it and I see that as a severe advantage.

I never had an account, and due to this, lost out on many social gatherings (exclusive Facebook) and lost the ability to stay in touch with old friends or get all updates on my family (parents mostly).

The good outweighs the bad for me, but it hurts nonetheless. If you fare better, all the more power to you, but do note: out of sight, out of mind. You may not fully realize what you are giving up by not having a digital social network, from not being able to use Tinder, to more serious stuff, like not knowing a childhood friend has died.

Not being on social media is the equivalent of not having a mobile phone 10 years back. The "essential"-part of Facebook (and other companies, like Google) actually plays a role in European directives. It is why Google has to clean its index on request, and a small niche search engine does not have this responsibility.

I have an account, but I ceased using it 5 years ago. My "friends" were essentially all people I had met in highschool and rarely talked to, and upon a recent visit (over Tor of course) I was wholly unimpressed with my news feed.

The only benefit was reconnecting with a former exchange student we had hosted, luckily she already had Signal! Besides that, my feed was just tales of woe from people I used to have a coincidental connection to.

Perhaps I'm an oddball, but my SO is banned from Facebook (real name policy), parents consider Facebook to be spyware, and extended family has held it in poor regard (not of my doing surprisingly) for a decade thus far. Getting lots of pressure to join a Mastodon server though, seems the extended family is all on that. Not what I'd expect from a bunch of mid-westerners!

He should answer: vk.ru / vk.com :) ( as that's really functional equivalent of fb )

And to amplify the impression to mention "Putin" somewhere.

That might stop all further questions to Mark.

Or even start procedure of canonization [1] of fb.com in general and Mark in particular by Congress.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonization

Functionally and visually... down to the color scheme, logo, etc.

Although the music integration is better.

At first I thought you were meaning the church and Facebook, then I looked at vk.com and now I can’t tell.

Oops, not sure if GP edited their post about church, or if I missed it.

I meant VK.com is visually and functionally similar to Facebook (because it started as a clone).

Now if you live in a Russian-speaking country, it's unusual not to have a VK account.

I wonder why he didn't say Google? They compete for online ad dollars and that is clearly his biggest competitor.

I wonder if he was worried about the follow up question:

Senator: "But that is just for advertising. What about competitors for your customers that use the social networking product?"

Zuckerberg: "Oh them. They aren't our customers, they are the product."

He probably didn't want to promote Google Plus, VKontakte, Diaspora and others by mentioning their names.

I wonder if he's heard of Diaspora?

Of course he knows. He once even donated it.


Only a group of politicians could make Zuckerberg look like the human one. These senators are a disgrace. Their questions and statements are ignorant, intellectual dishonest, and bullying. They're mostly shitty people.

We do not need these ignoramuses making decisions about social networking technology. They're as clueless as it gets. We just need users to become aware of the value of data privacy and then demand it. Technology will deliver.

I'm not worried because I think users will support the right things in the end.

The best description of MZ i've ever read was "a wax doll cursed into life"

The answer is: Twitter. Similarities are...

- Social media platform (you are the content).

- Advertisers pay for eyeballs.

- Hashtags and groups collect similar users.

- Privacy settings control who sees your content.

- Text, pictures, videos, & polls.

- People leave Facebook for Twitter, & vice versa.

I'm not sure why he didn't just say "Twitter". In some very abstract way, Facebook overlaps with Apple. But that wasn't the question. The spirit of Lindsey Graham's question was to determine if consumers have a choice, and the answer is yes, they do: Twitter.

The spirit of Lindsey Graham's question was to determine if consumers have a choice

While this may or may not be true, part of Graham's job here is to make sure that the meaning of his questions can be ascertained by the actual wording of the question with no interpretation required, unless he's intentionally trying to confuse Zuck or get him to misspeak.

If Graham wants to determine if consumers have a choice, he should ask consumers if they have a choice. I'm sure the fine folks of South Carolina would be glad to help him out with that one. That would get him a more accurate answer than asking Zuck's opinion on the matter.

It's a weird question. If you're posting photos on FB, then Flikr/Yahoo is a competitor. If you're messaging people, then Google is a competitor (in 9 different partially overlapping ways :p). But saying "Google is Facebook's biggest competitor" is weird, cause FB doesn't have a search engine.

Their product is ads... so you would define competitors as anyone that takes away marketshare in advertising.

Facebook's arch nemesis: turning off your computer and going outside :)

You joke, but Coca-Cola's biggest competitor is water.

Any guesses on who sells bottled tap water for a huge markup, and who is part of the marketing effort to convince us to buy bottled water?

(Blame is not solely on C-C of course. Look to the Spectrum Stadium as an example of what happens when water is seen as a profit center, not a basic necessity.)

Surprised to see no one mention LinkedIn. On LinkedIn it's popular to comment on objectionable content with "This is not Facebook".

A better analogy would be to road networks, not car companies.

If you don't want to use roadways, what is the alternative? Flying? Railroads? Boats? Other roadways?

What's the correct answer here?

I get where the senator is going with his questions but there are plenty of alternatives out there, just no one wants to use them.

To quote the senator - "If I buy a Ford, and it doesn’t work well, and I don’t like it, I can buy a Chevy." but to put that into perspective here - "If I buy a Ford, and it doesn’t work well, and I don’t like it, I can buy a skateboard with two wheels."

Social networks are baked in. What more can you invent? Unless another major technology is invented Facebook is here to stay...

It was really more like:

> LG: Are there any other social platforms that reasonably compete with Facebook?

> MZ: Don't really want to say no because that's clearly a monopoly, but don't really want to cop to our core business being a data farm and not a social network, so... here is some convoluted non-answer.

> LG: Didn't expect that to be a stumper....

We can't be a monopoly because we compete with everyone.

You define a business based on customers and costs: 1. Facebook's customers are advertisers. 2. Facebook's costs are for IT systems development, infrastructure and operations.

As such it competes with other advertisers: e.g. Google, TV broadcasters, et.c.

The fact that it does this using a "social network" has nothing to do with the question!

Anti-monopoly has a different set of criteria to determine the relevant market, where a company with market power might be able to abuse that power. The three points listed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relevant_market are 1) demand-side substitution, 2) supply-side substitution, and 3) potential competition.

If FB were to change its fees or policies, can 5%-10% of the advertisers who are currently using FB switch to Google, TV broadcasters, etc. to get a roughly equivalent service?

If not, that would suggest FB is also in a more specific market than 'advertising', and has market power in that market.



Wow, did it fail so miserably that people can’t even remember it exists?

Except that almost everyone has one and there is barely an opt out. G+ is insidious in a way.

I miss google buzz.

renren.com wechat

Instagram. The answer is Instagram!

Go to a high school and you'll notice that young people are more on Instagram than Facebook.

Facebook owns Instagram.

Facebook's biggest competitor is the US government.

I'm not being flippant.

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