I’ve been hearing a lot of doubt in Facebook’s future lately with the IPO hitting the market today.The number one thing I’ve heard cited to dismiss FB’s staying power? MySpace. I don’t think that’s very relevant anymore. Here’s how I view Facebook and why I think it is going to take a seismic shift to crumple the site to ruins.
In the context of the World Wide Web I think of Facebook as a city and each profile as an apartment. 900 million people moved into Facebook city apartments over the last few years and we’ve been amassing a huge pile of stuff in each unit. It’s not the best apartment ever but it sure is nicer than our last places, those little holes-in-the-wall instant messenger profiles or MySpace. This apartment has all we could ever need (unlimited storage, endless entertainment) but might not have everything we want (more control, privacy). This place has got big windows and a pretty clean design.
For some this is their first online home, one they feel lucky to have at all, I like to think of how many families stay in the same house for the majority of their lives. That’s how I think Facebook will be for a section of society. Others who have been on many other social services may be tempted to move out of the apartment to a slightly nicer place with an even more modern, simple, clean design… but all of their pictures are up and we’ve got a lot of memories ingrained into the place, so there’s no real incentive. If only those apartments in Google Plus city were built a few years ago before we all chose this neighborhood. Now almost a year after Google Plus city opened it’s doors to the public, some have moved from Facebook, some have taken up a second residence, but most have stayed.
Our neighbors are our friends, and it’s a pretty lively neighborhood, even if they can get snoopy at times. Maybe one day some of the neighbors will move and the neighborhood will clear out but there are always more neighbors moving into the block, so it will take a great deal of people to start a trend.
We don’t have to pay rent but we do have to put up with ads. They’re all over Facebook city and most people have tuned them out by now. Usually the ad alone are not invasive enough to make us leave. We do not own the apartment, and that upsets some people. We can’t make major modifications to it beyond swapping out the picture frames and in very specific places or changing the name on our mailbox.
Some people don’t like that they cannot be a homeowner and they get upset that they are at the mercy of their landlord when it comes to sudden construction and redesigns. The landlord seems to barge in quite often, fixing a few issues, updating a few things stylistically but always leaving a handful of problems outstanding. We can call on the landlords to repair something but they’re very busy and usually don’t answer.
I think Facebook is to New York City as Google Plus is to Chicago, Twitter is to Los Angeles, Pinterest is to San Francisco and Detriot is to Myspace. Looking at other major social cities out there, the landlord and ownership problems remain. Still, to have an online home, you are not relegated to an apartment in these cities. You can go for a house or personal website in the suburbs of the Internet, one which you own completely. Still, with that ownership and control, you’ll be less connected to the cities and will have very few, if any, neighbors. The house’s construction is also in your hands, if you do not have an abundance of money or you cannot code, you can’t build the perfect house. Suburb living will cost you too, without advertisements paying for your stoage you have to pay mortgage or property tax in the form of domain hosting.
Pushing this analogy further, I think Facebook will fail just as easily as New York City might fail. Other cities will grow, but people will stay in the big one because hey, they like the sense that they’re part of something big and they’re willing to put up with housing annoyances to stay there.
Was I ever enamored with MySpace? No. I was on it and I hated it. It was broken, slow and annoying. Facebook was in order, fast and fun. It still is. I think we’re beyond a MySpace sized fall at this point, the city was too new, too focused on the failing music industry and other promoted content. Facebook has been smart enough to not bet their stakes on friend generated content a wide variety of popular features through their API. As they are now integrated into the world’s top sites, any transition we see away from Facebook will be a slow one, like the rise and fall of major cities.
Some who think Facebook will fail may be of the mindset social media outlets like Facebook, no matter what site they are, will fail. “I kind of think it’s annoying and a major case of TMI.” A coworker told me. “The only useful thing about it is as a directory so you can locate people from your past.” To those I say, social media will fail when social living fails. When people stop living in communities, cohabitating college dorms, talking to their families or keeping friends, going out with coworkers or neighbors. As long as these relationships are important to us and we have access online, social media will be around.
In that case, I consider social media to be equivalent to a country. Countries can fail, but it takes a revolution and those are hard to come by when the people are content. Countries like Social Media come with ideologies and politics that are ever changing and are subject to other republics (email, search) around them pushing and pulling boundaries. General opinion can shift, we’ve seen centuries where monarchies were accepted as the model structure for country organization, yet a few millennia of invasions and regime changes later, here we are in America with democracy. Once everyone is on board with an ideology, resources are poured into making it work and change to another mode of thinking can take hundreds of years. Generations help those changes take place.
Maybe you say that change is hyper fast on the internet, but I say that change is slowing. I recommend this map of the internet from XKCD, last updated almost two years ago. http://xkcd.com/802/ We have the world (world wide web) and with that are countries of social, email, video, blogs, chat and games. With the addition of search, shopping, music and maybe a little more news this map would be close to perfect. Within the country of social media, we have the cities of social services, each with their own industry and main export.
Not much has changed on the map in the past two years has it? What would that map look like two years before, in 2008? Drastically different. It’s possible to be over confident, over patriotic to the country (social media) you identify with, but I think if enough people get behind an idea, it is extremely hard to kill. Just take religion. We have all of these establishments dedicated to religion and they help ensure it’ll stick around. Will big brands leave their millions of Facebook fans in the next five years? Probably not. Will 900,000,000 Facebookers just up and leave their photo albums and message histories for something slightly better? Probably not.
If I see a service that can quickly transfer all of your status updates and photos to another network as well as keep your Facebook friends’ updates streaming to this new network, then I’ll worry. That does not exist yet. And so confident in Facebook’s future I remain.