Doug Rushkoff has predicted doom for Facebook in the same way Aol and Myspace lost their relevance: http://rushkoff.com/2011/01/07/facebook-hype-will-fade/
Essentially he equates Facebook getting in bed with Goldman and a looming IPO as the kiss of death. I feel he could be right but I must admit I hope that he’s wrong. The reason I think Facebook has more value than it’s fallen predecessors is also the reason I don’t want to see it fail. This is the promise of singular online identity.
Since 1996 when I first received an email at college I cannot count the number of email accounts, networks and logins I’ve had to go through. I currently am a user/ member of numerous sites and I still use several different emails. I have recently maxed out my Gmail but the prospect of paying Google for more email space is unappealing to me so I will probably start yet another email account. This kind of fragmentation has actually become overwhelming for me. But Facebook has come to the rescue in more useful ways than share and ‘status’.
Facebook’s encouragement of people using their real identities creating networks of acquaintances who really know each other transcends the superficialities of Myspace. By letting other sites tap into the Facebook Graph it encourages even more interaction on other sites from users because they can use their Facebook ID to ‘Like’ or login to a site. Furthermore once you’ve Liked a Facebook page you’ve essentially subscribed to posts from that page indefinitely. This benefits both content provider and content consumer.
Because of the few things I’ve just described millions of people and thousands of companies have invested their own value into Facebook. The more Facebook becomes integrated to how the web is used the more valuable it becomes.
To circle back to the issue of singular identity it is in this that Facebook knows it can achieve the longevity that has eluded the earlier social startups. Already Facebook is about to give it’s users email addresses. Half of my friends only communicate through Facebook messages. I can use my Facebook login to join many service sites with the click of a button (Kickstarter) and avoid tedious form submissions. It’s only a matter of time before Facebook gives us the equivalent of Amazon 1-click. You can only imagine the increased online consumer spending that could invigorate and of course the credit processing fees Facebook would rake in.
I’m not saying most of the above mentioned stuff isn’t scary. But I, like so many others, have so far been willing to trade the illusion of privacy in return for optimal convenience. Most adults have some discretion as to what they put out in public. There is an understanding that there is no real privacy if we choose to live our lives out on the web which is itself creating a new netiquette for this age. (We can see this cultural change play-out rapidly at higher levels in the disclosures of Wikileaks). I will write some of my own netiquette rules for the Facebook age soon.
In their identity-centric approach to the internet Facebook has pushed the boundaries of what the web actually is which puts it in the company of innovation giants such as Apple and Google. Because Facebook has redefined how hundreds of million people use the web many predict that it’s personalization approach will eclipse Google’s general search.
Rushkoff predicts that early adopters will spell the end of Facebook by moving to another platform. Having seen this happen numerous times before it’s entirely plausible. The core social networking aspect of Facebook (communicating and sharing with friends) is easily replicable and could be vastly improved (arguably better alternatives for core social networking features exist in Open Source such as Buddypress and Diaspora). But as I’ve stated before it’s Facebook’s graph with it’s tentacles reaching any website that will allow it access that have secured the longevity of Facebook.
Facebook made some high profile privacy gaffs in early 2010 in which Zuckerberg heralded the end of privacy. They suffered for this in the press and swiftly added clearer privacy controls. What Zuckerberg knows is that the average Facebook user is not so concerned with privacy (no matter what Facebook sees all). There are activists, journalists and thinkers who are very worried about the troves of data Facebook has collected about it’s users. On the one hand they are right to be worried. That data in the wrong hands could produce some of the most effective and manipulative advertising ever, cyber related crime and governmental prying.
I think most Facebook users don’t see this kind of exposure as such a great big evil. Facebook’s success is due to knowledge barter. We give Facebook access to our personal preferences and social communications while Facebook delivers what we want to see to the feed we look at several times a day. This simple mechanism (or algorithm) brings together our fragmented online identity into one reliable, credible and social place. The feed serves many interests at one time.
Rushkoff doesn’t seem to acknowledge the value of Facebook that even the moderate user finds useful. He points to millions of inactive users and those users who have aliased themselves by starting multiple accounts to discredit Facebook’s claim of 600 million users. While I think he’s right by suggesting that Facebook’s has an actual active user number of 100 million is more plausible it is besides the point. I think there are very few aliased users with multiple accounts on Facebook (like Myspace and Twitter) because it simply negates the value and usefulness of Facebook to the user.
In conclusion I’m saying that Facebook is actually not going away anytime soon because it has tapped into our real-life identities and actual relationships. Combine singular identity with an ambivalence to privacy and you have something with real value to users, businesses and, by obvious extension, advertisers.
We met a lovely couple from South Africa in Salta, Argentina and decided to stay in touch. As I readied my phone to put them in my contact list they quickly suggested to connect through Facebook which I promptly did without all the fuss of creating a contact through my phone. He tellingly didn’t use a photo in his profile leading me to think he’s not a ‘power user’. Truth be told, neither am I. I’m not inclined to constantly share details from my personal life. But it’s in the Graph where I am finding value. No more pesky signups to sites I’m interested in. RSS articles of interest coming to me directly through my daily feed getting equal billing as my real friends. And soon a replacement for email that is spam free (email as we know it will probably have a long life in a corporate context as Facebook is about the personal and not professional…but it wouldn’t take much would it…I’ll save it for another post). The more Facebook users invest of their real identities into Facebook toward singular online identities the more valuable and, dare I say, indispensable it becomes.