Verb wall: The $40 billion Mark Zuckerberg is leaving on the table

Mark Zuckerberg answers Jessica Livingston's questions at Startup School

I was on stage with Facebook advertising Product Manager Paul Adams this morning. Don’t know who he is? He came up with the research that led to Google Circles before moving to Facebook. Interesting guy, but he told me that Facebook isn’t working on ways to push advertising back out through the verbs to client apps.

First, what’s a verb? Every time you comment, like, read, run, or do other things you are creating data that gets turned into a verb and pushed into Facebook via an API.

You can see the results of these verbs on the new ticker that runs on the right side of On my screen right now it says “Erik Lammerding read…” or “Verizon Wireless added…” or “Katherine Goldstein likes…”

But the problem is Facebook has a verb wall, which means Zuckerberg is leaving BIG money on the table.

Let’s unpack just how much money Facebook is leaving on the table. First of all, here’s an interesting video with AllTrails. Don’t know who they are? They are yet another app developer that is collecting interesting data about the world. In this case hiking trails and other outdoor activity areas. Go ahead and watch, I’ll wait until you get back.

Do you see the verbs? “Walked…” “Skiied…” “Boated…” “Finished…” “Ran…” “Cycled…” “Climbed…”

Now, the reason I posted this here is because there are hundreds of companies like AllTrails. Companies like Foodspotting, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around food. Companies like RunKeeper, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around exercise. Companies like Foursquare, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around location.

These companies have data that Mark Zuckerberg wants. Why?

Facebook’s driving mission is to know everything about everything. Oh, OK, they don’t say that on stage, but we all know that’s where they are going, don’t we? (officially it’s: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”)

After all, Facebook is a new kind of media company. One where the media comes TO us. Yahoo is the old kind of media company. We have to go TO the media there. That’s why Yahoo is boring, no matter how many iPad apps they release. It’s old and creaky. It’s not social. It doesn’t have verbs. It doesn’t have a way to bring my friends, or my interests to me like Facebook and Google+ can. Facebook is new and fresh. Paul nailed why on stage: the web is being rebuilt around people. He gave several examples, but, heck, AllTrails is as good an example as any. I can see what people say about the trails. Even better, as AllTrails integrates into Facebook, I can see which trails my friends have been on.

The problem is that Mark Zuckerberg’s “verbs” (the way that apps, like Foodspotting, AllTrails, Foursquare, or Runkeeper will share their info into Facebook) are sort of one way. Facebook has a cultural bug here. They view everything like a data roach motel: all your data can come in, but it won’t leave. Well, except that Zuckerberg keeps hiring all these open web folks, so watch for this to change.

And, due to Paul’s statements on stage, I’d go further: all your app data will come in, but no value will escape.

That means that Mark Zuckerberg still hasn’t seen the $40 billion market that he’s leaving on the table because he’s not thinking about how to become THE ad network for the modern mobile age.

Let’s go into what Facebook will have to do.

They will need to build a new messaging infrastructure for advertising. A lot of that is already built, but ads need to be portable, mobile friendly (form factors that work on iPhones and Android phones need to be standardized on) and need to be able to be passed through the contextual engine that Facebook is building (geeky way of saying “database that understands everything about you and your role in the world”) and out, through those verb interfaces, to be displayed on apps like Foodspotting, AllTrails, etc.

Today, when I use Facebook on a mobile phone, I don’t see a whole lot of advertising.

Adams, who is a product manager working on the advertising team, hinted at the kinds of advertising that he’s interested in: ones that put people first. He showed several examples of commercial sites that became much more useful once social is added to them. Etsy and Trip Advisor, for instance, both change when you add Facebook to them to show a new kind of commerce: “five of your friends have been to this hotel.” THAT is very powerful.

But, take that out, past the verb wall, aren’t we more likely to be transactional when we are out and about and using apps like Amazon’s new “Flow” app, or AllTrails. “Five of the people who’ve been on this trail ate at Joe’s dinner, 500 yards away.”

This is a new kind of advertising and there’s going to be BILLIONS of dollars spent on this kind of “people-centric” advertising.

But first Mark Zuckerberg has to open up the verb wall and start passing VALUE back through that wall out to third-party developers.

If he does that, oh, boy, you will see a TON of innovation unleashed as developers build new kinds of apps for mobile developers.

First, though, Mark will have to blow open the verb wall. So, Zuckerberg, this is all my way of saying “tear down this wall.”