Will Facebook Still be Around in Five Years?

A decade is an eternity in the world of technology. A site, service or company on top of the world today may be gone tomorrow. So the big question is the future of the world’s most popular social network – Facebook. Will it be as popular? Will something else be the next big thing? Will it even still be around?

Well, no one really knows for sure what will happen to Facebook or social media in general in the next few years. And with so many factors that could make or break a company, it’s about as easy to predict as it is to predict Barack Obama’s successor. Of course, that doesn’t scare me from taking a good educated guess so I’ll not only look at what might happen to Facebook, but also include some scenarios as to how it could be overtaken as the social media juggernaut. So let’s start with my prediction.

There are two things I like to look at when making a prediction: history and trends. You can learn a lot about where things are headed by closely watching these two areas. History gives you clues as to what can possible happen and how those involved handle what happens. Trends show you where the needs and opportunities are.

History:

There are two lessons in (very recent) history that negatively impact Facebook’s survival chances. The first is that loyalty to a service doesn’t matter if something better comes along. Take a look at MySpace for example. Of course, both services are dramatically different in terms of what they can do, but they’re remarkably similar in terms survivability. MySpace was the hot thing – everyone was on it. It allowed you interact with friends and share status, photos, music and more. Also, businesses were also using MySpace as their URL in both print and radio ads – similar to how Facebook is used today. And, way back when, a lot of people wouldn’t go near MySpace because they didn’t trust it – similar to the attitude that a lot of people have towards Facebook today in terms of security.

The other thing that hurts Facebook is the way it has made decisions in the past. There have been major changes in both the security features and the terms of use (including who owns the content you post to your profile) that have resulted in a backlash. While Facebook is still growing, a number of people have closed their accounts down or stopped using them. I wish I had some hard numbers but I doubt Facebook would ever release them.

Now what’s working in Facebook’s favor is the amount of users. Now you don’t have a nearly half a billion users and go out of business overnight. Also, Facebook has a programming platform that makes it easy for business to set up both shop and services on it. The more users have invested in the service, the more difficult it’ll be to lure them elsewhere.

Trends:

Here is where Facebook runs into some real challenges. If you look at recent news stories related to Facebook, especially the viral ones, it shows trends that are not only bad for Facebook but bad for social media in general. The stories are about how people lost their jobs, had their home robbed, found out their spouse was cheating or left their spouse for an old flame they met on Facebook. The theme here is how Facebook can get you in trouble. I even wrote an article about it recently. Now what this trend shows us is that there is an opportunity for a social media service that provides better privacy and security. Facebook could easily step up and meet this challenge, or someone else might.

Social media is also becoming more social. By that, I think of it as being more of a virtual night out versus a virtual class reunion. When you go out with friends, there’s something about having other people who are not part of your party around. Whether you talk to them or talk about them, it makes it more interesting. Part of the fun of social media (and the biggest benefit) is that it’s so easy to meet new people for both personal and professional purposes. That’s why Twitter is, in my opinion, the real hot social media service. Twitter, due to its two way friending model (you can follow someone and/or they can follow you), it’s just easier to connect with people. With Facebook, you need to initiate a friend request, the other person needs to accept it and then you can start having some dialog. Or, you can message the person (assuming they check their Facebook messages) and try to start a conversation that way. Of course, Facebook is far superior to Twitter when it comes to staying connected.

Plus, Twitter has the concept of Follow Friday (which is dying out a bit) and retweets as well as the way people use it to mention multiple users to help you connect friends in a quick and informal way. So I use Twitter to make connections and Facebook to keep in contact. Each of these services has room to grow to pull market share away from each other. Perhaps the ability to have a public and an inner circle profile would give users what they really want.

The final trend I’d like to include is the celebrity factor. While many celebrities have personal Facebook accounts, most of us have to like their fan pages to interact with them. These pages are isolated communities that you need to “like” in order to interact. Twitter allows celebrities to have “verified accounts” so you know they are who they say they are and not an impostor (and trust me, Twitter is the best service to use if you’d like to trick people into thinking you’re someone else). With Twitter, you can follow a celebrity and send them a tweet. You can also see who else follows the celebrity and what they’ve tweeted to them (assuming their profile is not locked). Neither model is perfect, but which ever service finds a way to help people get a personal response from celebrities will have a definite advantage in longevity.

How Facebook Can Be Beaten:

Google, with all its resources, has tried to one up Facebook with a number of different features it adds to both its search engine and Android phones. If there’s a company that could beat Facebook, it’s definitely Google (with Microsoft a close second). Even though Apple has grown to be the biggest tech company, i would count them out because while they have a great platform for creating their own social media service, they would most likely limit it to iPhone/iPad users (see history). More realistically, I would guess that there’s a 12-year old somewhere with an iPhone dreaming up what the next big thing will be and that will eventually overtake Facebook.

Regardless of who succeeds Facebook, they will need at a minimum, the following features:

  • The ability to copy all your content (photos, videos, notes, etc…) from Facebook to their service.
  • The ability to easily find friends who use this new service.
  • The ability to allow for social applications and games.
  • A way to manage your online presence to keep yourself out of trouble.
  • Incentive to encourage friends and family members who don’t use the service to give it a try.
  • A way to manage invites to events, and maybe even the ability to broadcast live through the service.

And if you really want to the key to success here, make it advertiser supported by create a revenue sharing model (perhaps based on profile views).

The Verdict:

I predict that Facebook will still be around in 2016, but I don’t think it’ll be as big as it is today. It could get overtaken by an existing service (LinkedIn or Twitter), a big technology company (Google or Microsoft) or some kid in a garage (or on an iPhone in a library). Only the future will tell. See you in 2016 (keep an eye out on my RSS feed).

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