Facebook at 10
Believe it or not, Facebook turned 10 - just 10 - years old last
week. For people who have got used to the feeling that Facebook, or FB
as it is affectionately called, has been part of their lives for decades
(except for teenagers who have practically grown up with FB), it may be
difficult to believe that the social networking site is not yet into its
FB, the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg (now one of the world's
youngest billionaires) and a few of his friends was formally born in
2004 though the groundwork was laid in 2003 in the Harvard University -
if you want to know the entire back story, watch David Fincher's
excellent film The Social Network, paying particular attention to Aaron
Sorkin's acclaimed screenplay and dialogue.
Facebook is essentially a place where you can connect with your
friends (and relatives) online and get to know their latest exploits
through text, photos, graphics, video, weblinks and audio. Apart from
that, almost every commercial entity on Earth has a FB page, where you
can ‘Like’ their products and services. You can also give your comments
on any posts that you see on FB. Facebook has given us a number of new
words and phrases (or existing words which now have another meaning)
such as Wall, Timeline, Like and Unfriend.
Facebook has more than 1.23 billion users worldwide. Its revenues
jumped 55 percent to US$ 7.87 billion in 2013 while profits grew
sevenfold. Although it is not the most widely accessed site in the world
(Google is) this is a substantial number which FB is keen to take
advantage of in terms of attracting advertising revenue.
It is a model which it has still not perfected yet. Facebook is now
not alone in the social networking space - its biggest competitor is
Twitter, where you have to say everything in less than 140 words (plus
pictures, videos etc) and Google's own Google Plus site is catching up.
Sites such as Pinterest, WhatsApp, SnapChat (which FB tried to buy and
failed), Instragram and LinkedIn are growing.
As FB heads into its 11th year, doubts have been expressed about the
long-term viability of the site. After all, there's only so much social
networking that you can do online before the real world intervenes. FB
has given rise to a phenomenon called Facebook Envy whereby posts about
exotic holidays abroad, newly acquired vehicles, workplace promotions
etc can generate envy and even jealousy among even the best of online
friends. Many people are also irked by the endless photo montages of
babies, families and parties that adorn Facebook. There are some things
that we don't want to see repeatedly online and some things that are
best kept private from 2.4 billion eyes.
Many social analysts also blame the site for a perceived lack of real
(physical) social integration. We do not chat physically but we chat
online on Facebook, Gmail etc. We get to know the holiday plans of our
relatives and friends from FB, not personally from them. If four persons
meet physically, at least three of them are online on their smartphones,
getting the latest updates from Facebook and Twitter. This is not a very
healthy situation at all.
But all good things must come to an end some day. Will FB face the
same fate ? If a glut of recent studies are to be believed, its days are
definitely numbered. Various reports suggest it is haemorrhaging users,
that teenagers find it boring - one survey even comparing it to an
An EU-sponsored Global Social Media Impact study concluded that
teenagers felt embarrassed to be associated with Facebook and that it
was “basically dead and buried”.
In November the Pew Research Centre reported that teenagers were
growing weary of having to sustain relationships with their parents on
Facebook. Several Princeton University Researchers have used Google data
to predict Facebook's imminent demise, describing it as an infectious
disease. Meanwhile, iStrategyLabs has reported that the number of
teenage Facebook users was declining while the number of those aged
above 55 was booming. That last statistic is interesting - elderly
persons could be tuning into FB as their real-life contacts fade away.
However, Facebook's defenders have dismissed these theories. “One of
Facebook's greatest strengths is its practice of regularly adding new
features and functionality to its site; this both ensures it infects new
users and also makes sure existing users don't become immune to its
charms,” said one commentator.
Indeed, Facebook still claims far more young users than any other
social network. Nevertheless, Digital agency iStrategylabs used
Facebook's own social advertising data to extrapolate that three million
US teenagers had left Facebook in the past three years. While everybody
who is anybody is still on Facebook, it is still struggling to find a
way to target its advertising to selected groups. Companies such as
Amazon also have arrangements for cross-advertising with Facebook. But
Facebook could not afford to be complacent about its younger members
because if they could be persuaded to stick with the social network,
they would become the spenders of tomorrow.
It is very difficult to predict what tomorrow's tech will look like,
but one thing is certain: Tablets and smartphones will rule. In this
context, Facebook needs to keep innovating with new offerings like
mobile video apps and mobile commerce. These will be essential if FB
wants to get to 20 in good shape.
But it is still a mystery as to why people use FB at all when there
are plenty of other methods through which we can communicate in real
time. In a recent status update, Facebook's communication manager and
former BBC tech desk editor Iain Mackenzie summed up why he thought it
“Today people have shared the birth of their first child, wedding,
hooked up, broke up, mourned, outed themselves, said something dumb,
said something profound, confessed that life's got too hard for them,
been brought back from the brink by a friend, or a stranger, found a
job, posted something that lost them their job, learned a fact that will
save their life one day, found their new favourite song, and hit ‘like’
on a cat picture - all on Facebook.”
As he says, its appeal could boil down to the fact that it taps into
that most basic of human characteristics - curiosity. However, only time
will tell whether that curiosity will last.