The discussion surrounding Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) "unbundling" its multiple applications and properties -- in other words, operating as distinct entities untethered to Facebook itself -- has been going on for some time. The notion of unbundling really picked up steam earlier this year as Facebook began acquiring several new assets, including WhatsApp, Oculus, and drone consultant Ascenta.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it pretty clear in an interview with the NY Times that investors better get used to unbundling when he said, "Facebook is not one thing." Okay, and there's some method to Zuckerberg's madness, particularly as Facebook continues to spread its growing wings.
But if recent rumors come to fruition, Facebook will be going down an entirely different path, one that flies in the face of all that the social media leader once stand for.
The latest from the rumor mill
About five years ago, when Facebook was really coming into its own, Zuckerberg sat down for an online interview. At that time, the article noted that a big part of what made Facebook unique was that it was unlike most social media sites that were overrun with "nicks," or anonymous identities. Social sites like MySpace had been "reduced to private hiding places for a handful of virtual characters obsessed with hiding their real identity."
Then along comes Facebook, and much of its success was based on the fact that it helped "connect with real people that matter to you." Clearly, the notion of using Facebook to stay connected to friends and family, and to discover what's going on the world -- Facebook's mantra since day one -- has worked wonders. With 1.32 billion monthly active users, or MAUs, and revenues that seem to grow daily, Facebook's formula has been an unmitigated success.
But a new app, rumored to be rolled out in the next few weeks, will change the very reason Facebook has become the dominant social media player it is. Industry pundits point to companies like Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) as a Facebook competitor, and it certainly fights for the attention of online users.
Though there are literally millions of tweets daily, and Twitter is cited on TV and radio consistently, its 271 million MAUS are a mere drop in the bucket compared to Facebook's. Connecting with friends and family via Facebook remains king; sending a tweet here and there is a relative afterthought in the world of social media.
Now, along comes an as-yet-unnamed new Facebook app, so say the rumors, which will allow users to interact using pseudonyms, so they can discuss topics "they may not be comfortable connecting to their real names." There are a host of sites on the Internet that already allow users to say what they will without revealing their true identities; it appears Facebook is getting ready to join the anonymous crowd. To be sure, the new app would be part of Facebook's unbundling strategy, operating as a distinct property from the main site.
The case for anonymity
Facebook fans have no doubt heard the flap arising from the LGBT community due to Facebook requiring transgender users to use their legal names, rather than the monikers they go by on a daily basis. Facebook has since loosened its "real name" restrictions in that regard. The rumored new anonymous social media app is not related to the LGBT-Facebook brouhaha; word has it that it's been in the works for about a year.
As popular online sites like Reddit demonstrate, there's a big market for social media outlets that allow people to vent, discuss personal issues, and a whole host of other "uncomfortable" topics, all under the cloak of anonymity. If word of the pending new app proves true, Facebook wants in on that budding trend. And as a stand-alone app, proponents could argue, it wouldn't change Facebook's name requirement policy in the slightest.
Final Foolish thoughts
Much of Facebook's incredible success has come from its ability to amass and utilize huge amounts of user data. Facebook's ad targeting abilities, as a result of all that data, are the envy of the digital advertising industry. So what, then, does Facebook gain by providing anonymous users an outlet to vent? And the negative implications are very real, and sometimes downright frightening.
A Facebook exec described it best when he was asked about anonymous social sites: "The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it's both terrifying and sad." His remarks weren't in response to a question about the rumored new app -- Facebook had no comment on that.
But they may as well have been, because that's what anonymous users of the new app can look forward to. No thanks.
Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Twitter. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.