Facebook: the New Internet or a Gilded Cage?


Mark Evans has an interesting read on 5 Things that Could Kill Facebook.  I can narrow my list down to three, but first let’s examine his list.

1) The evolution of its business model.

Mark says Facebook has a clean and accessible look and feel.  I’ve read others say the same thing.  I think it has a clean look, but I don’t find it particularly accessible.  In fact, I think it has a very non-intuitive interface.  I’m pretty computer and online literate and I can’t figure out how to do anything on Facebook without a lot of trial and error.  And if I have these problems, how do you think the public at large will fare?  Contrary to our occasional assumptions, everyone under 30 is not an uber-geek.

I agree with Mark, however, that the more ads and features they cram into Facebook, the more chaotic and MySpace-like it will become.  And anyone who reads this blog knows I have no love for any of those butt-ugly MySpace pages.  Like the rest of the internet, Facebook is, or will become, ad-dependant- which means that there will be ads and lots of them.  There are those who believe the online ad dollar is consistent and infinite.  I believe it is cyclical and limited.  Granted, if the shake out comes and Facebook is the last network standing, good for it.  But there’s a lot of ground to cover between now and then.

2) In-box Contamination.

Mark says over time there will be so many people clamoring to be your friend that the network will become unmanageable.  Perhaps, but there are a lot of people who do pretty well keeping their network of friends small out here in the big old blogosphere, and I suspect those who want to have a small network will be able to have one.  The risk, I suppose, is that your friend list starts looking (again) more MySpace-like and friend becomes just a marketing word for link.

3) Application Noise.

Brad Feld wondered the other day what’s in it for the application developers who are creating all these great applications.  My hunch is that it’s all about the buzz at the moment.  Developers are in a gold rush for users and, once they stake their claim, they’ll let someone else figure out how to monetize it.  As the competition heats up, however, the clamor from applications looking for a spot on your Facebook page could become distracting.

4) The IPO.

I’ve written plenty about the problems money or the prospect of money cause online and off.  Once Facebook make a break for the IPO, priorities will change.  The goal of getting traffic will become secondary to the goal of making money from that traffic.  And as far as I know there’s only one primary revenue source (see item 1 above).  Facebook has the same problem the rest of the social networks have.  It has nothing to sell but eyeballs and traffic.  Both of which are connected to other people.

5) Facebook Fatigue.

For me personally, this is the most compelling of Mark’s 5 things.  I’m bored to tears with Second Life, and almost as bored with Twitter.  Facebook has broader traction that either of those applications, but I wonder what the average lifespan of an active Facebook page is?  I also wonder about the mean lifespan of Facebook pages of groups of users who sign up around the same time.  If your pals aren’t there, there’s nothing social about the network.

Now for my 3 things that could kill Facebook.

A) Its heritage as a place for school kids.  Even now, when you create and manage a Facebook account, there are a lot of remnants of its genesis as a largely college hangout.  How you know someone.  The “personal ads” vibe of the sign-up process.  The navigation in general.  In sum, it just doesn’t seem very businesslike.  It’s not as bad as MySpace, but it still seems more like my kids’ rooms than my office.

B) The blogosphere/Google combination. Open API or not, there’s still a wall around Facebook.  It’s hard to get data out of there and into the wild.  As AOL found out, what people look at initially as a safe place to hang out can begin to look like a cage over time.  I continue to believe that the blogosphere is the only network that matters, and that over time most people will elect to take control of their content and manage it via a wall-free platform.  Anything that gets between a content provider and its users is by definition bad for the content provider.  And there’s no need for a central registry of contact information- we have Google.  Just do a search.

C) LinkedIn.  Granted, LinkedIn is a little behind in the race for the social networking crown, but with news that it plans to open its API, and the more business-like atmosphere to be found there, I can envision LinkedIn becoming the preferred network for grownups.

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