Why are we questioning the future of Facebook now? Mark Zuckerberg has seemingly wore a hoody since 2003 – why is that now an issue? Facebook has had lawsuits taken against it before, why are we plotting on its demise now? Why are we now doubtful of the potential financial growth of Facebook?
Without knowing much about the IPO, I’d venture a guess that the answers to the questions above lie in our perceptions of what exactly ‘Facebook’ is. Before the IPO Facebook was perceived as a cultural phenomenon; pure organic growth built on a close recognition of what real people wanted from the web. It is an addiction, a narcissistic virus which plugs itself into our existing social behaviours, and feeds off our lives while appearing to serve us. It’s possibly the closest thing to The Matrix we’re likely to witness in our lifetime.
Not anymore. Since Facebook shares became available to the public we possibly now think of Facebook as vulnerable and as fragile as we do any other massive corporation since the global recession. From the average Joe on the street faith in such organisations is low – built on the doubt, caution and struggle that has surrounded us in the past few years.
Fortunately, to gauge this claim, we can ask the ‘average Joe’ what they really think about the future of Facebook:
It seems the majority of my Facebook friends who responded to the question believe that Facebook is not on its way out. Maybe this was a bit skewered by the fact that the poll was undertaken on Facebook, or maybe that’s an indication of how Facebook has adapted and evolved to be the first port-of-call for even the most obscure social actions.
Further discussion with my housemate, Elliot, proved to be one of the most productive and agreeable discussions on the subject we’ve ever had. He’s not a fan of Facebook, he’s alarmed by the damaging effects online behaviour (baited by Facebook) can and will have to the human race in general. His argument was that Facebook will collapse, but when it does it will be under pressure of a force which Wall Street, Palo Alto, and all the marketing and PR professionals in the world will not be able to resist. Time.
Facebook launched in 2004, and a child born in 2004 is currently 8 years old. This 8-year-old has grown up with Facebook as ‘the norm’ – they’ve probably been swiping away at iPads in schools and been receiving cringe emails from their Dad in Gmail – their first steps are probably on YouTube. The parents amongst us who are so proud of how ‘digitally connected’ the world they’re bringing their child into is – will also know how hard it is to tell these kids to do anything. Fast forward 5 years to 2017 and picture a 13-year-old logging into Facebook for the first time.
Would that 13-year-old want to make friends with its parents? Its grandparents? Its school teachers?
To a 13-year-old doesn’t Facebook then become another form of forced social interaction imposed by the obligations of family –like sitting at the dinner table, like going to visit grandma, or like going to cousin’s birthday party?
The real test for Facebook will come about when the inevitable change in culture/behaviour comes about for the next generation. If they have hover-skateboards and automatically-lacing Nikes and virtual-reality will they still think Facebook is cool? Or will they look at it the way they might look at Back to The Future?
Facebook’s current strength is that it’s a company built on people – no amount of financial concerns, or lawsuits or stock-market disputes will change the affection billions of people feel for Facebook. We’re logged into Facebook reading the news about the decline of Facebook; it’s still the first tab many of us open in our browsers and it’s usually the last one we close. Until the ‘wheel of time’ rolls around far enough to change this culture/behaviour I don’t think Facebook-use will recede much, Zuckerberg has proved he is, so far, nimble enough to keep Facebook users happy to be plugged in voluntarily to The Matrix.
However I feel Facebook’s current strength will ultimately be its demise – people are the lifeblood of Facebook, and as a living organism evolves beyond recognition of its origins, people will in time do something else.