There's been a lot said over the past few months about the future of Facebook; first from media reports of bullying and harassment based mainly on the social network and more recently, a poor IPO showing. An odd thing to comment on, you might think, but like it or not (no pun intended), Facebook has become a powerful force and my own experience has been long. In fact, I joined Facebook only a few months into being a fresher at university, days after Facebook was initially made available to three UK universities. I've seen it grow from those early days immortalised in the film The Social Network and to the present day. At the time, there is no doubt, Facebook was the hub of the social lives of every single person at university. It was universal, within our bubble. Recently however, my use of it is has reduced gradually to the point of only the occasional check and making no real active effort; my time instead focussed on Twitter. This is partly because I took the decision to not have a business presence on Facebook, possibly to hide the endless embarrassing university photos (!) and for a raft of other reasons:
- Facebook lost its way when it stopped being the Facebook. It was supposed to be a university network based entirely on the interactions of students at high-end institutions. The owners knew that to grow and become yet richer it must inevitably be opened to all, but at this point it critically lost the exclusive attraction; the magic.
- It fell into the trap of being too customisable, like bebo and myspace which failed. The consistent ease through which pages could originally be navigated was the key. Adding 'pirates' and 'being bitten by a zombie' was just irritating. The new timeline is roundly condemned as confusing.
- Facebook became what it was largely through good fortune, I believe, but rhetoric and claims from Zuckerberg et al in the meantime point to a retrospective vision and wider purpose. The Facebook was the product of a talented but socially ambitious and frustrated student. It became reactive over time to innovation, not a source of it.
- A push towards the only possible revenue generation, advertising, was impossible to sustain. People go on Facebook to chat and share, not to buy things. Making ads subtle means even fewer people will click and make advertisers pay. People go on Google to buy things, hence the sustained power of the arch-rival through adverts.
I think that Facebook will eventually fall out of favour altogether, as it has done with me - at first a genuine life hub and now a relic which has lost its way. Twitter has stayed true to its beginnings and fundamentally has more value, although Facebook can be given credit for taking social networks from a side-line to part of modern life. Other networks such as LinkedIn, Vimeo and others have recognised their limits and will thrive as such. Google+ is yet to be proven but doesn't seem to have any of the magic that Facebook had and lost.