Just like governments, mixing “creativity” with “banking”, taking naked pictures of yourself and hoping they won’t end up on the Internet, and well, this stuff, tech companies have a certain inevitable amount of failure built-into them. Sure, IBM, Xerox and Motorola have existed for many decades, and both Microsoft and Intel still have dominant positions, but if we really think about the “powerhouses” in technology today (Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple), they are all fairly young (I’m using the argument that Apple effectively reinvented itself in the late 1990s). And if we look ahead even 10 years, it’s hard to argue those four will hold they same positions they do today.
Of the four, I’d personally assess Google and Facebook as “most vulnerable” to obsolescence (just a hunch, I’m sure I’ll be ridiculed in the commentary for such a statement), and with the points made on “why Facebook’s the new Yahoo!” by Mike Elgan and Mathew Ingram, I thought I’d write up a little somethin’.
First and foremost, I see Facebook as in no way similar to Yahoo! Not even a little bit, I’d barely even figure out how to compare the two companies (other than the “.com” at the end of their URLs). The key thing, beyond whatever “Facebook.com” is all about, is that Facebook is unarguably the most well-distributed and deeply integrated service on the Internet. According to Nielsen, Facebook users spent 53 billion minutes in May 2011 using the site – and this does not count Facebook-integrated features on other websites. The Facebook “social graph” is at/near/above 700 million users at this point. That’s a lot of the Internet. A lot.
I don’t see Facebook dying due to “stale technology” – they aren’t about technology (other than scaling, etc). They aren’t about UI/UX (tip to FB: the “clickable thing” in an update should be the action/verb, not the user nor target/noun). Most of the typical norms of a website’s laws of gravity simply don’t apply to them, due to the massive inertia they’ve built with their userbase. Further, the inertia of existing social graphs make growth of Google+ and Twitter effectively irrelevant – I think speculation that “Facebooking” will shift to a different social network is extremely hard to substantiate.
I used to take the “cool club in town” position on Facebook, and the moment it wasn’t “new” and instead full of B+T crowds, it’s popularity would sink and people would move on. But I don’t think this argument holds up anymore, Facebook is too popular in too many demographics and the “cool kids” are “over” the fact that their lame parents are there as well. It’s like the mall – just because Dad’s shopping at Eddie Bauer isn’t stopping the utes from hanging out in the food court. I know it too is easily picked apart, but I think the mall argument works really well as a parable for Facebook.
When you want to open a Gap, and you want customers, you find a mall. Orange Julius? Mall. Crappy replica furniture Bombay Company? Malls.
What’s the online equivalent of that? Facebook, Likes, Facebook Connect, etc. Facebook is the way brands are engaging with customers online. And this is just making them even stickier.
So how might Facebook fall? A few thoughts…
- Massive shift to mobile interactions – Facebook’s weakest point at present is its mobile presence. If the world continues its mobile/social/web path, I believe Facebook has less to offer that ingrains it so deeply in the traditional browser/web world. Without the stickiness across mobile apps (especially with the iOS shift to Twitter and Android’s inevitable equivalent with Google+), they could be highly vulnerable.
- Massive revolt on social networking – At present, our society is unfortunately radically focused on narcissism and fulfilling ego problems. This may (please, please, please!) change, in which case folks’ll have much less desire to share every (useless) nuance of their (mundane) lives with their friends/acquaintances/people they kinda met once. If these patterns ever emerge, you can put Facebook at the top of the chopping block as it’ll become the target of said pushback.
- Massive elongated platform failure – Whether its by hackers or internal problems, a significant outage of Facebook and its related services could cause things to unravel in a significant way. I’d wager that if a Facebook Connect downtime prevents users from logging into websites/apps for more than a few days could cause the digital equivalent of a bank panic by both the web services and the end-users themselves.
- Massive rapid shift to post-PC platforms – Similar to (1) above, if the shift from a computer-based world to a tablet iPad, phone, connected TV, and other device world happens, and Facebook can’t provide the same “glue”, they’ll be vulnerable.
- Massive privacy breach – When I say massive in this case, I don’t just mean Facebook makes some (typically) poor decision regarding consumer rights/privacy, I mean something really awful happens, and its very public, and its entirely due to Facebook. Like, huge act of terrorism on highly visible people entirely tied to something that was Facebook’s fault.
- Unknown – This would be the deux ex machina of today’s post – something otherwise unpredictable comes along and clobbers them over the head.
It’s hard to predict the end of giants or eras. But that they will fall and whither away is predictable. Curious to hear any other people’s thoughts on the topic in the comments below!