Facebook gained prominence in the social networking space by appealing to college kids as a way to share messages, find out who is dating who, and sharing photos between friends. MySpace was there for anybody and everybody and had become spam-hell and a visual assault, but Facebook’s real talent was its exclusivity. By launching college by college, the company garnered excitement and hype before it was unleashed on campus – and it gave friends a new way to connect and share their digital lives.
The reasoning for Facebook expanding outside of that specific and limited demographic is obvious – money. Targeting college kids is a great way to make your product appear cool, but once you expand beyond that, the superficiality of cool becomes apparent, and one company trying to please investors becomes more like another. Google’s IPO changed the company’s culture from one that had engineering and organisation at its heart, to one where money is its focus. For Facebook, the change is going to be moving away from people (its users) as its focus, and turn that determination towards making cash. The problem is, that whilst the way Google makes money is by improving its products to get more people to use them to sell more advertising, Facebook makes money by getting people to share more personal information to sell to advertisers. Google makes products to sell advertising against, Facebook sells user data – that is a huge difference.
There is an old adage that if a product is free then you are the product being sold, and with Facebook this has never been more true. The problem, however, lies in that this will become ever more apparent and Facebook continues to switch around its privacy settings to get people to share more data when they need to please investors.
Those tastemakers that would have been Facebook’s most vocal advocates six years ago are now using Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram to connect with their friends, make new ones, and be curators. Zuckerburg has noticed the trend, and that fear prompted the $1 billion acquisition of Instagram a few days ago – but the vocal outcry of users closing their Instagram accounts on the news is just the tip of the iceberg.
Facebook, with a userbase of nearing 1/6th of the world’s population, has become an integral communication tool on the web – used nearly as universally as email but with the benefit of a real person being on the other end most the time. But outside of that person-to-person communication and its resultant utility in setting up parties and events – its influence is waning. Facebook used to be a place for friends to communicate, not watch the unedited “frictionless” streams of drivel that your friends are reading/watching/listening at any given minute – there is no “connecting” with friends there, it is digital stalking when you never wanted to be a stalker.
Facebook has never been a place for curators, and the successes of Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram are proof of that. Facebook’s social tools of connectivity are useful, as everybody has an account – but that is it. Your friends are not the best people to curate all your entertainment and interest needs – some have a great taste in music, but love soap operas on TV, others are fantastic about international politics, but are rom-com fanatics. Everyone is different – and no-one wants to follow every little detail of everybody they know. We all like different parts of different people, but with Facebook you are confronted with everyone’s entire stream of consciousness whether they meant to share it or not.
After its upcoming IPO, Facebook will continue to expand, continue to reduce friction from sharing, and will continue to evolve into a messy, disorganised stream of cute pictures, outrageous news items, and Lady Gaga. If I wanted that, I would visit the Daily Mail Online – I want to just be able to interact with my friends online, and FAcebook is making that ever more difficult.