Jul

15

 When thinking about the future of Facebook, I believe it could be helpful to consider some context. In particular, it might be helpful to understand FB's evolution, trajectory and emerging substitutes.

My understanding of FB comes from my children and the movie. My children are Mark Zuckerberg's age and my oldest was a classmate's Mark's sister in another college. My youngest had personal insights about the Winklevoss twins though a collegiate rowing community, also in another college.

Initially, FB was aimed at one college, Harvard. Later it expanded to the Ivy and Ivy-like colleges (not graduate schools). Initially FB was intended to network among America's future elite. As time progressed, students from other great colleges were allowed to join, but they had to possess the proper e-mail extension.

As time went on, students from good universities were allowed to join. Finally, anyone with an "edu" extension on their e-mail address could join FB.

During this period, FB was aimed at the 18 to 22 year old college student. It was a symbol of, "I've made it to college and I'm a member of an important network." Because FB was largely confidential, postings were largely about gossip, interesting parties, crazy behavior, linking up and engaging in various college-age discussions. From the perspective of college students, FB was safe because parents, teachers and non-college students were denied access and those older folks had no idea what was being shared.

Then FB took a step that almost ruined its future; it allowed high school students to join. College-age students were devastated. And while privacy settings were limited, college age students began blocking the younger set. In addition, they thought of ways to prevent younger people from viewing certain areas and began to restrain themselves from certain posts and conversations.

Then FB became attractive to cool people in their late 20's and early 30's, primarily college educated. However, FB's culture was changing; it was no longer elitist, unique nor confidential. Online behavior, particularly among the undergraduate age, became formalized and restrained.

Then the worst happened. Mom and Dad signed up. Mom and Dad started posting baby pictures of their college-aged students. They posted obscure discussions about their good 'ol college days (sans the bad stuff they didn't want their kids to know about).

With Mom and Dad watching, a whole new culture evolved, particularly among the college age and recent graduates. They avoided discussions about religion, politics, sex and money. They rarely talked about another person unless it's good news. They tried to blend into the background.

Even though some thought the worst had already happened, the absolute worst hit when Granny got her account. Granny didn't understand the culture and protocols and ranted about this and that, publicly mused about the future of the nation's youth and reminisced about the good 'ol days.

For some, FB's value had been completely diminished. For people in their 20's, online conversations became limited. Posting of pictures had to be Granny-safe. FB, once a private network, had become a family album.

Young people finishing college or recently out of college began to focus on LinkedIn. There they can create a variety of networks, including alumni groups, and focus on professional development. While Granny is unlikely to connect in LI, they don't care. On LI, the language is already sanitized and professional; Granny would be proud if she only understood.

FB's trajectory suggests the site is becoming less relevant for certain age groups. FB started with undergraduates who are now in their late 20's. It appears FB is now losing that age group. In addition, it seems FB's loss is spreading to nearby age groups.

Accelerating FB's downward trajectory are gaffs that violate users' sense of privacy, cultural mistakes that make assumptions about user preferences and reporting profiles to marketers and government policing agencies. FB is becoming more like Microsoft and less like Apple.

In the end, I believe FB will become family oriented, at least for users in the West. LI is becoming more relevant, particularly the 20 to 40 age group.

I don't know what will replace FB, but it certainly isn't twitter. Right now, for the 20 to 30 age group, it seems smart phone texting is de rigueur; it's private, focused, discrete and direct.

It seems to me there's a void developing. It's in the very market Zuckerberg originally identified; a live yearbook.

More directly, FB seems to be losing relevance among its core users at an accelerating pace. I think FB peaked, at least in the West.

Looking forward, I wouldn't be surprised if FB bought Ancestry.com (ACOM).


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1 Comment so far

  1. Dan Costin on July 15, 2012 8:12 pm

    You’re missing the fact that the kids have privacy groups, so even though Granny’s on Facebook she only sees the sanitized stuff. All the other stuff still goes on, and the tech-illiterate parents have no clue. LinkedIn is not going to substitute.

    You’re also missing the platform creation. FB is game central for certain types of games, it’s a widely used messaging platform without the silly Twitter character limitations (how long are those going to be in place?), it’s what people use for quick sharing of pictures (which is why they had to eliminate the competition in Instagram).

    Hard to tell when it peaks. Not sure who has the numbers on this, so not sure what you’re basing this on.

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