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Predicting the demise of Facebook

On May 23, 2012, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an opinion piece I wrote called, “The Death of Facebook“:

With a $16 billion IPO behind it and its billionth user on the horizon, Facebook has made it hard to imagine a world without it. Yet the technology industry is notorious for booms and busts. Can you remember the last time you fired up a Netscape browser, visited a GeoCities website, or invited a friend to join AOL Instant Messenger? I’m convinced that Facebook is as doomed to fail as those ventures.
To remain vibrant and relevant, Facebook must overcome daunting challenges. Unless it can deftly incorporate future waves of innovation, it faces the fate of other once-successful technology companies: death.
dislike buttonListen closely and you can hear the death knell: Facebook is no longer cool; the once-clean interface is cluttered; and better applications are taking off even faster than Facebook did.
Already, Facebook is in danger of being really good at something people are no longer interested in: sharing content with their acquaintances. And with around 85 percent of its revenue coming from advertising, it lives or dies by its number of users. Moreover, the larger it becomes, the more difficulty it will have adapting to the technological advances and user expectations of tomorrow.
For example, Facebook was once a top destination for photo-sharing. However, as consumers shift to taking photos with smartphones instead of digital cameras, the network’s photo-sharing experience is beginning to feel dated and tired. The company acquired the photo-sharing service Instagram to address that issue, but it now faces the daunting task of integrating the services.
In addition, many people already find Facebook too complicated. Adding features has made this problem worse, not better.
Facebook’s ability to improve the user experience is also limited by its fundamentally flawed model of social interaction, which is based on the idea that every individual has a single social identity. This may have been true for the college students who were its first users, but it does not account for the multiple roles of adults in work, community, and family life. As a college professor, I interact with my students one way and with my colleagues, friends, relatives, and neighbors in others.
Another flaw in Facebook’s presentation of social relationships is that until recently, it required all social connections to be reciprocal. That is, you can view my updates only if I agree to see yours. While the addition of Facebook “followers” acknowledges this limitation of Facebook “friends,” it further confuses an already cluttered user experience.

As the best-known social-networking site, Facebook is also a primary target of both abusive practices and backlash. It seems as if each new feature — most recently, timelines and frictionless sharing — renews privacy concerns. Some employers are now asking job applicants to share their private information on Facebook, making a long history of usage a potential liability instead of an asset.

With declining benefits and increasing risks, users are more likely to leave. This is a deadly result for a company in a mature market.

Five years ago, few of us were using Facebook. Five years from now, that will likely be true again. The future of social media will combine people we know (our social networks), the topics we are interested in (interest networks), and where we are (location-based services), all optimized for smartphones, tablets, and other mobile technology. Facebook is a dominant social-networking platform, but it barely competes in these other categories.

Users flock to the services that provide the most compelling experience; advertisers and brands follow. As users move to new options, a downward spiral into irrelevance can happen virtually overnight. The technology graveyard is full of former market leaders like Netscape, Geocities, and AOL, all of which failed to provide the next big thing. The odds are that Facebook will, too.

Steven L. Johnson is an assistant professor of management information systems at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, where he teaches social-media innovation. His website is http://stevenljohnson.org.

What’s your take? Do you expect to use Facebook as much in 5 years as you do today?

Image credit: dislike button by Sean MacEntee

12 Responses to Predicting the demise of Facebook

  • Other recent critiques of Facebook appearing online:

    a) From Forbes, also written pre-IPO:
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2012/04/30/heres-why-google-and-facebook-might-completely-disappear-in-the-next-5-years/

    b) From CNBC (today):
    Facebook Will Disappear in 5 to 8 Years: Analyst
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/47674474

    c) From AdAge (this week)
    Why Twitter Is a Better Brand Platform Than Facebook
    http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/twitter-a-brand-platform-facebook/235115/

    d) From Mashable (May 15)
    Is Facebook Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory?
    http://mashable.com/2012/05/15/facebook-ipo-defeat-victory/

  • I agree that Facebook must innovatively evolve with the times in order to stay viable, but what other social network in the horizon is truly a threat? Market leaders like Netscape, Geocities, and AOL all fell when the next best thing came around. Google with it’s enormous brand equity was probably the only company capable of even coming close and even it was fallen short.

  • Thanks for the article.

    I personally I left facebook recently because they overstepped the mark regarding privacy.

    The German authorities asked them to delete all of the facial recognition data of users’ photographs that they had collected previous created as it was in violation of EU llaw.

    They would not do this.

    Seems they falsely believe that they are above the law.

  • I won’t say Facebook is too big to fail, but it is pretty darn huge. Sure, these social media sites come and go (MySpace was going to rule the world and last forever, remember?), but Facebook is so big and so prevelant that I think it’s going to last for quite awhile just based on momentum and its huge user base. Google’s about the only company that has a chance of overtaking Facebook (and it will probably take something other than Google+ because that’s not cutting it).

  • Mark says:

    The question is not which competing social network will destroy facebook but rather , as the author implies, ‘which new technology?’
    AOL wasn’t destroyed by a competing dial-up service, it was destroyed by broadband, a technology whose infrastructure and implementation AOL had little control over. So it shall be with Facebook and an analogous technology. Furthermore, as the author again has rightly acknowledged, Facebook’s business model is a joke. When I search Google for a “ceramic knife”, it’s because I want to buy one. When I bumble around on facebook reading about some twit’s “best day ever” , I generally am not interested in making a purchase.
    Google is the new yellow pages. Facebook is the High School yearbook…for free. The yellow pages are useful. The yearbook is not.

  • Steven B says:

    I think Facebook will keep going strong for awhile. But due to human nature, I think it will inevitably start to fall in popularity. Not because of any one particular thing they do wrong, but rather people will start becoming interested in something else. The “next big thing,” whatever that might turn out to be.

  • Richard says:

    I think Facebook will be popular for few years too but after 3-5 years it’ll become like today’s msn. People were addicted to msn too and now it just gone, so why not Facebook?

    Also I don’t think Facebook gives people so much value and as you said they are just chasing the money…

  • Josh says:

    I can easily imagine a world without FB, lol – I think it would be replaced with a multifaceted network of smaller based communities of people with relevant interests, not just one big cluster-f*** of everyone telling people they havent seen/spoke to in 10+ years how they don’t feel like doing dishes, or what bar they are drinking at that night…. lol