A few months ago, I published a post here with my prediction that Facebook would decline in popularity, and that it would do so, in part, because it doesn’t put users first. Some disagreed with my assertion that Facebook as a destination would become a thing of the past. Here’s why I’m right.
When you’re the size of Facebook, the fall is a long one, so Facebook won’t disappear in the next year. The network is likely to experience a significant drop within the next five years, though. (We may even be seeing the first signs in Facebook’s recent decline in traffic and lower use among kids.) Why? Because Facebook doesn’t put its customers first, it is highly vulnerable to a new, disruptive technology.
Facebook’s main advantage over similar, competing social networks is the head start it gained, meaning it’s now the place where all of our friends and family are. We aren’t loyal to Facebook, though. The situation is akin to picking which bar to go to on Saturday night. You might have three bars to choose from. Two you really like. One is just mediocre. But all your friends are going to the mediocre bar. So that’s where you go, too. The company you’re with is more important than the place you’re at.
That’s exactly why Facebook is vulnerable, though. If it was creating a great user experience and constantly providing innovative, desirable features, it would be one of our top destinations. Since it’s not, if a few key friends start to go to another bar, we’re likely to start going there, too. The only thing keeping us on the Facebook website over another location is the other people on it. As more and more friends go to another bar, eventually there won’t be any reason to stick with Facebook as a destination.
All that’s lacking is that nicer bar that starts to draw people away: the disruptive technology. To understand the likely nature of that technology, consider the way that socializing and content discovery has changed over the years.
To date, it’s largely been a battle to be “the place” on the internet. Remember Yahoo and AOL? They were once “the place” to be. Called Portals, they were our entry to the Internet, and also to conversations via old-fashioned forums. Yahoo and AOL were displaced by Google. It offered us a different entry to the internet, via “key” words that unlocked access to websites through search.
Facebook then entered with a focus on relationships and conversations, the news of what is happening now with the people we care about. Facebook wants to be “the place” now. The result of this battle is that throughout the day, we switch between different places (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) checking in to see what’s going on. We’re constantly going from one place to another, and clicking links to go to smaller sites, which are also battling to be “the place,” at least in their own little niches.
Sounds tiring, doesn’t it? Isn’t there a better way? I predict there will be, and for indications of the new metaphor, you have only to look at your phone.
I have a Razor running Android. My phone buzzes when someone tweets to me or posts on my Facebook page, or when I get a text. If I feel like checking in, I can pull the top bar down at any time to see if new emails or tweets have come in. The Facebook and Twitter apps on my phone are more integrated into the device, making access easier. On my phone, I think less about going somewhere (Twitter or Facebook) to see what’s happening. Instead, what’s happening comes to me.
That’s the kind of technology we’ll see that will bring Facebook down. It’s why Google and others are investing in research on how to smartly predict what information and conversation you’ll want–so they can serve it up without you having to ask for it. The technologies being developed will bring content and conversations to you, and lead seamlessly from one to another, without you having to think about the particular technology or network on which the conversation is happening.
If the conversations and content from my friends came to me, I’d never go to Facebook.
Which is exactly why Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on will fight such a technology. The battle we’re seeing between Twitter and Instagram is all part of the continuing fight to be “the place.” If people come to your site or use your app, you can display ads. That’s how these networks make money. If a technology bypasses the social network or app as a location, that revenue opportunity is lost.
So, the new disruptive technology will also bring a much-needed new ad model with it.
I have no doubt that we will see this disruptive technology within five years. It will be a new technology that offers a great user experience, brings content and conversations to users instead of making them go seek out the conversations, and provides content creators and smaller networks with a unique and more cost effective way to monetize. It will capture the smaller publishers and end-users first, and likely start on mobile devices before moving into the desktop. It will displace the Facebook website because it will fundamentally change the internet economy from a battle to be “the place” into a battle to be “the service.”
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