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Facebook's "Strategy" misguided by a Stanford MBA

Right, so before we get into a war of words let me explain what this is about. BusinessWeek interviewed Facebook's international manager (Javier Olivan) and reported it here.


Javier is apparently an MBA from Stanford and is 32 years old. Perfect credentials those, except once you read his comments you realise how ridiculous his perceptions are.

Orkut, a social networking service by Google, has been the dominant force in India for the past many years. Its nice, clean, basic and I'm on it as well - because many of my Indian friends are only on Orkut and not on Facebook.

Anyway, so in my opinion here are some reasons why Indians like Orkut:
1. It loads quick
2. You can have nicknames (and not be forced to use your real name)
3. It has seamless integration with Google Talk, an IM many Indians use.
4. It has smileys
5. Low privacy settings by default (this is important) - so anyone can write on anyone's wall, unless explicitly blocked.

Now these observations, 1-5, are important and they're not even exhaustive because I haven't gone through the trouble of analysing the case in detail for Mr. Olivan, but even at first glance, once can see quite a few differences with Facebook.

Lets take #2 and #5. Indians have a low expressed 'need' for privacy and they enjoy a more 'social' culture. However, when privacy is required, they'd rather hide behind an assumed nickname rather than set their privacy settings to block anyone not on their friends list.

And Orkut does allow comments in Hindi (and other Indian languages) as it has support for Unicode (as does Facebook). But now, Facebook thinks it has the Ace of Spades because it has now translated its entire website into Hindi (and five other Indian languages).

Reality check Facebook - Aditi Sharma says the right thing.

"We all write in 'Hinglish' anyway, so I don't need to have Hindi typing," says Aditi Sharma, 20, who studies in Mumbai but uses Orkut to stay in touch with high school friends. ("Hinglish" is what comes up when you type out Hindi phonetically with English characters, throwing in words from both languages for ease; for instance, "How are you?" becomes "Kaise ho?" )

But Javier insists that no, Indians want to read websites in their own languages.

And he adds:

"I don't know why people think that by having a local office you will have a better local product," Olivan says. That might work "for certain types of businesses," the Stanford MBA concedes, but not for Facebook. "The brick-and-mortar approach is not effective in doing [things] fast and efficiently," he says.

I mean seriously. Where is this guy from? Has he ever even been to India?

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