“I Saw the Sign”; Why Facebook is the next ABBA, and everyone else is Ace of Base.

From Chuck Klosterman’s latest masterpiece Eating the Dinosaur, the essay “Abba 1, World 0”:

“Judging the value of any band against the ephemeral tastes of the hyperpresent always misinterprets its actual significance.  Moreover, any act lauded as “especially relevant” (and any critic preoccupied with hunting whomever that’s supposed to be) is almost guaranteed to have a limited career, simply because so much of their value is tied to an ephemeral modernity they only embody by chance.  The reason [AC/DC] will leave a larger, deeper footprint than virtually all of their competition is because they’ve never been relevant or irrelevant; they make music outside of those parameters.  This quality is rare.”

The essay is a broader tribute to ABBA and their genius (and to a lesser extent, AC/DC).  The gist is that these bands were able to create a lasting and unique product (songs / sounds / images / identities) in part because they successfully insulated themselves from the destructive fad-driven demands of popular culture (the very same forces that make a band like Limp Bizkit insanely popular and subsequently erase them completely from the public record a few short years later).

It’s impossible not to see the parallels in Silicon Valley.  Here, start-ups are the rock bands, and TechCrunch is Rolling Stone (“the critic”, with a notably shorter news cycle).  Isn’t “real-time” just an expression of Klosterman’s “ephemeral tastes of the hyperpresent”?  If so, what “actual significance” are we misinterpreting?   In short, in Silicon Valley, who is ABBA? And who is Ace of Base?

I have been spending most of my time the last few weeks talking directly to customers (via the Inman Connect RE Conference and sales meetings) and the ABBA’s are fairly obvious:

Google. And mobile phones.  And Facebook (albeit still somewhat of a mystery to many).

And here I don’t mean “Search”, “Mobile” and “Social”.  I literally mean www.google.com, www.facebook.com, and email, SMS and voice all rolled into a mobile unit (with just maybe a little bit of web-browsing, if it happens to be an iPhone).  No one has heard of foursquare.  Or TweetDeck.  They don’t care.

Facebook, Google and mobile phones are the platforms of the real world, both for the present and the foreseeable future.  These will last as long as the massive over-synthesized hooks of “Dancing Queen.”  Everything else is a fad or a feature.  If you’re a fad, at best you’re destined for an episode of “I ❤ the ‘00’s” on VH1 a decade into the future, firmly situated between AOL Instant Messenger and the Kindle.  If you are lucky enough to be a feature, you’re either +1 click or dead.

Google pioneered the +1 click online ecosystem and the vast majority of the internet has built itself around it.  Mobile started out as literally a +1 (followed by 10 numbers), which the iPhone has reinvented with its +1-touch app platform, appropriately replacing the literal “click” in the process.

But what about Facebook the platform? Facebook +1 is in its infancy. Is it Google (+1 Search / +1 Ads) or is it the iPhone (+1 apps)? Can it be both?

As a Connect partner with serious ambitions for the ad platform, at Stik.com we are betting the farm on either (or both).  The real bet is that Facebook is the next ABBA on the technology block, and that the soundtrack is going to sound a lot more like “Money Money Money” than “Waterloo.”  Much of what else is going on is just noise — catchy reincarnations of Ace of Base.  (Seen on TC today, a start-up billed as “Yelp-meets-Groupon-For-Health” – naturally.)  Applauding Facebook makes for fairly boring copy (particularly every 20 minutes), much for the same reason that Rolling Stone doesn’t do a monthly feature on how Sgt. Pepper’s is a killer album.  In the spirit of Klosterman, Facebook is probably too relevant to be deemed “relevant” by critics in a real-time world, but it is well on it’s way to becoming the defining platform of the next decade.  So before going batshit for the next “Farmville meets Twitter for pets”, open up your eyes and see the Sign.


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