Facebook is losing its edge. The biggest name in social media has gone from scrappy upstart to tech establishment, and at this point, some sort of decline is inevitable. What’s most surprising, though, is how little the company seems to be doing about it.
In a recent blog post, product designer Chrys Bader argues that Facebook’s nature as a social network demands that it be looked at as a social movement with four distinct phases: Emergence, Coalescence, Bureaucratization, and Decline. It’s not unlike the classic industry life cycle, but with one key distinction—a social movement seeks to be established in a culture. Once that happens, the movement becomes mainstream, and ceases to exist.
What we’re seeing is a fundamental shift in the perception of what Facebook means to society. It has become institutionalized. It’s become the town square of the world. But that’s not where the kids hang out.
And he’s right. Facebook CFO David Ebersam confirmed it back in November: Facebook is losing teens worldwide. They’re going elsewhere, using services like WeChat and Vine. Millennials, too. A recent Mashable story calls Facebook "the cigarette of 2013, the ‘bad habit’ many are trying to quit." Among the reasons? The signal-to-noise ratio is terrible, and everyone is on it—employers and parents as well as friends.
That last bit is relevant, but also obvious in 2013. Facebook is huge. Too huge, argues Jay Yarow for Business Insider Australia. It’s becoming a social network singularity, one in which it’s core product is a News Feed that works in ways that are hardly ideal. Despite the social network’s very clear desire to have users share more and more—called Zuckerberg’s Law by the New York Times in 2008—the News Feed can only handle so much while being effective. You could get engaged, writes Yarow, and thanks to the News Feed’s algorithms, half of your friends might miss it.
"Facebook is now trying to cram so much 'sharing' through a single service that it is overwhelming many of its core users. Meanwhile, companies like Snapchat, What’sApp, WeChat, Line, Twitter, and Instagram (which Facebook owns), are now cleaving off types of user-sharing that Facebook would like to have owned."
While gaining new users isn’t something that gels with Facebook’s approach as of late, the company also shows a puzzling indifference toward expanding in parts of the world that aren’t already well-connected. As David Talbot of the MIT Technology Review pointed out on Tuesday, although the company is a partner of Internet.org—an organization dedicated toward connecting the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have Internet access—it has done very little toward actually connecting anyone that isn’t already online.
Does all this mean that Facebook will soon fade away into nothingness? No, probably not. Facebook as a social network will probably endure. But the Facebook Era of social media may be approaching its end. Unless, of course, auto-playing video ads cause everyone to come back in droves.
[Image: Flickr user Rajib Ghosh]