Facebook looks like a titan. Its empire is big enough now that its end won’t come quickly. But all the ingredients for the fall of Facebook are there already.
Facebook has 13.4 million users in Australia. About 9 million use it every day. Out of a population of 23 million, that’s almost complete saturation. At the moment many families have two generations on facebook. Before long it will be three.
You hear stories that the youth are “using snapchat instead” but I suspect most kids will have a facebook account, even if it is unfashionable to use it. It probably just takes one missed party invitation to crack and sign up.
Globally, 1.23 billion people use Facebook. That’s one in six of the world’s population.
So at the moment Facebook is everywhere. It’s the Coca-Cola of online communities – it’s everything to everyone. How can it ever be usurped?
The idea humans will only ever need one social network is wrong.
Most people are already on more than one, even if they don’t necessarily see it like that. Twitter and LinkedIn and Ello are obvious ones to mention. But online games and forums are somewhat-competitors to Facebook. So is any site on which you can make an account and leave a comment or ‘like’ an article.
As Facebook becomes the mainstream backbone of our social networking, lots of little social networks to meet specific needs will come up.
Why can’t Facebook just meet all those specific needs?
Whenever someone talks about the one big solution that will replace all the other kludges in our life – in any field – I think about the kitchen.
This is perhaps the most intensively used, tried and tested set of “apps” in human endeavour.
Mostly we need to apply heat to food. Do we have just one big heat source that does everything? Hell no. My kitchen has at least seven different ways of warming food and drink: an oven, a microwave, four gas burners of different sizes, a kettle, a coffee machine, a sandwich press, and a toaster.
Mature markets don’t offer a Swiss Army Knife solution. ‘All-in-one’ is really a synonym for ‘not very functional at anything.’ If this wasn’t true, we’d all wear those pants that zip off to become shorts.
Facebook will be the backbone of our social networking. In kitchen terms it is our stove – the one thing everyone has. But that does not mean it will be the only network we need. Everyone will experiment with a few other networks for their own preferences.
One day, one of those social media that meets some people’s needs will have a cool feature that means it suddenly has almost as many users as Facebook.
Then, the owners of that network will have a choice – do they try to become the new backbone, or do they try to remain a niche app? The rewards are probably highest in becoming the new backbone app, so they will try to knock Facebook off its perch.
Facebook’s purchases of Instagram for $1 billion and What’sApp for $19 billion make a lot more sense from this perspective.
Facebook was once just a little app for college kids to find each other. It recognises the potential for a simple and effective app to become global fast. It knows it has to prevent a competitor from rising. The easiest solution is to make your competitors your employees.
But with the payoffs to being a Facebook competitor rising, many more social networks – including things that don’t look exactly like social networks – will enter the fray. Many will end up big enough to get buy-out offers from Zuckerberg.
But eventually one of those will be owned by a young entrepreneur with a Napoleon complex who’ll turn down the offers in order to take a shot at the throne. I give Facebook ten years.