Why Facebook will fail within 5 years

Earlier in the year I read a very interesting article by Ross Dawson giving his thoughts on scenarios for the downfall of Facebook.

He stated that in 5 years time “the most likely outcome is that Facebook will still dominate” but gave 4 key reasons how, should that not be the case, Facebook could potentially fail, they were:

  1. issues relating to privacy and overcommercialisation
  2. an alternative becomes more popular (eg: Google+ or Socl)
  3. an alternative non-commercial social network becomes more popular (eg: http://diasporaproject.org/)
  4. a shift towards a mobile targeted social network

I wanted to add three more ways in which I see Facebook could potentially fall off the top spot:

a) Over-controlling the newsfeed

The primary way that users browse Facebook content – the newsfeed – has changed a lot over the years, and we’re now in a phase where Facebook have a lot more control over it than many people realise. Originally it was a chronological list of ‘events’ – ie: who did what, who said that, who liked something, etc. Basically a window into the lives of your friends, exactly what made Facebook popular in the first place. Today by default your newsfeed is set to show “Top Stories” which Facebook say are “the most interesting stories at the top of your news feed”. But how “most interesting” is determined is largely out of your control.

Some of the “most interesting stories” are in fact sponsored posts from companies that your friends like which raises the question of relevance. For example, as a vegetarian do you really want to see posts from McDonald’s in your news feed just because someone you went to school with ‘likes’ them on Facebook. Or when a friend ‘likes’ a political activist group that you don’t agree with do you really want to know about their rally in the local park this weekend?

We all joined Facebook because we love seeing what everyone else is up to. If that’s taken  away from us and Facebook start to make the call on what they think we want to see then that could start to drive people away.

b) Visual social networks – people love pictures

So I know Facebook own Instagram, but what’s been interesting is watching the growth of Instagram not just as a post-processing photo filter app but as a social network in its own right. The cameras on smartphones are so good these days that nobody really buys compact cameras anymore and having a place to quickly share snaps from your phone with your social network is going to become more and more important.

Facebook launched Instagram style photo filters in the new Facebook app recently but is this enough to stop a migration from Facebook to Instagram and other similar niche photo sharing networks? Uploading a photo to Facebook on your mobile is still a relatively clunky experience, it’s simple on Instagram.

Photo sharing is one of the most popular aspects of social media, so a network that provides a simple & easy to use way of doing this could well pull market share away from Facebook.

 c) Overly complex layouts

Take a look at your Facebook news feed page. There’s a lot going on. Links down the left, your apps, the news feed itself, birthdays & events, ads down the right, the live ticker, chat application, search, and a lot more.

What killed MySpace? Ok a few things, but it has a reputation for becoming way too cluttered and hard to use before everyone jumped ship.

Could Facebook’s need for driving revenue since the IPO mean the introduction of sponsored custom layouts, more integrated advertising such as over-the-page (OTP) rich-media ads or banners in the news feed? And if so, would updates like this eventually drive people away to simpler niche social networks to get away from all the noise?

Whatever happens, I don’t think you can say with any certainty whether Facebook will still be number one in 5 years time. However this is no time for them to rest on their laurels as like we all know things can (and do) change very quickly in the Digital space…

Ross Dawson’s original article can be seen here: http://rossdawsonblog.com/weblog/archives/2012/07/scenarios-for-the-downfall-of-facebook-and-a-new-landscape-for-social-networks.html