I must state upfront that I am a Facebook regular; a real life “Billy no-mates”, who has tons of virtual friends, checks in at every opportunity and loves looking at peoples’ holiday photo albums – so how could I dream of saying it will be dead?
Well, let’s look at the real world of business. Not so long ago, there was a company called IBM. You know, the IT giant who would never be moved. Where is it now? I’m sure it is thriving in certain areas, but is it the giant presence it once was? Hell no! I am no financial analyst, but I reckon it had a good 30 years.
Now let’s look at Microsoft. It has been around since 1975 and probably took about ten to 15 years to make some really good products. And for 20 years, everyone mainstream used Windows. Now (and I realise this will upset some die-hard PC fans) all the cool kids are using a Mac. Microsoft’s mobile platform flopped and the iPhone reigns supreme. Altogether, I reckon Microsoft had its upward curve for about 20 years.
Now let’s look at my friend – and yours – Google. I’ll cut to the chase on this one: ten great years before the social networks really took off. Everyone turned on their computer and hit up Google before they did anything but now, Facebook is the first port of call – or eBay if you need to sell your Windows PC.
So there you have it – the effect of the online half-life, where the speed of technology increases and a person’s attention span reduces. This means that a company’s time at the top is greatly reducing – and even more so in the internet space.
Facebook has not done anything more radical than Google did, and already users are starting to get fed up. It is desperately trying to monetise the site and constantly wrangling with privacy issues. Eventually, it will slip, just like IBM and Microsoft. If I told you five years ago that no-one would buy CDs, or that you couldn’t buy a VHS video recorder, you would have called me a lunatic. Today, that is reality.
So it’s not so much a case of Facebook dying. It’s more a case of the world moving on. If it didn’t, we’d still be riding horses to work.
But it is true that some things change the world forever. When we moved from audio tapes to CDs, we had the luxury of the skip button. From that point onwards, and no matter what came next, no-one would tolerate having to fast forward one track and keep guessing where the next one was. It was skip button all the way.
In the same way, Facebook has changed the world drastically. I can’t imagine a world where I can’t have friends across the globe; leave them quick update messages; or just have that feeling of virtual connectedness by reading friends’ updates. I just can’t imagine being in a world where my mum can’t just log in online and see the photos of her granddaughters I have just uploaded.
But Facebook can’t live forever. Companies just don’t. It’s already dipping off its innovation curve. I mean, it launched its own email service last year. Email? Hotmail did that ages ago.
Sure, Facebook may always have a group of hardcore fans, but something else, something better, will come along.
Let’s take a look at the commercial reality. People have changed forever. Google might be where you go to search for information, but it can’t beat Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn for real-time updates and collaboration.
If you want to succeed in the next 50 years, you’ll need to build your tribe of followers, fans and connections (or whatever they’re called next). It’s not so much about mastering the platform; it’s about mastering the process of leading a virtual tribe who are interested in your point of view.
So there you have it. Facebook will die. Groupon will buy another company. Microsoft will add Skype to its mobile platform. And my hair will go grey. That’s just life.
Guy Levine is CEO of social media agency Return On Digital.
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