So when Chris expresses pessimism about Facebook's future, I listen. And when he says that Google and Apple, with their ability for "hard integration" of social interaction into devices, have a huge advantage over Facebook, I quickly defer to his superior knowledge--especially when I have no answer to his question of "Where does Facebook go from here?"
So where do they go? More specifically, what keeps them relevant when one's identity is easily moved from Facebook to wherever fits best at the moment? Perhaps more importantly, what significant income streams can Facebook snag beyond advertising? Seems like a good puzzle for a strategist to noodle on.
First, Facebook undoubtedly has a few things going for it already. Nearly a billion people are on it, for example. That's the entire U.S. population times three, plus a few European countries thrown in for good measure. And many of these folks (I have no idea how many) spend a significant amount of time Facebooking--much more than on searches, I'm sure--doing things that, for them, are meaningful, sometimes unforgettable. Sharing their lives, talking about themselves. Looking at photos of high school crushes, creating posts about cancer treatments. Feeling like old friendships never disappear and new friendships are a mere button away.
In my opinion, that built-in humanity provides the foundation for where they go from here. The desire to post photos and videos of Hawaii vacations will never go away. In other words, human motivation remains relatively constant, even if the delivery method changes. And Facebook has effectively tapped into a number of core traits nearly every human on earth shares: the desire to be known, to be cared about, to be part of something larger. In fact, as Nathan Jurgenson says in this Atlantic post, says that:
Today, we are in danger of developing a "Facebook Eye": our brains always looking for moments where the ephemeral blur of lived experience might best be translated into a Facebook post; one that will draw the most comments and "likes."
Paul Adams, the guy behind "circles" in Google+, left Google to join Facebook because, as he says on his stellar blog Think Outside In, "Google values technology, not social science." But the fact that Paul is now working to build Facebook as a advertising platform leads to the big question: Even if Facebook continues to be highly relevant, how do they make money beyond selling ads?
They can make more money by creating new and specialized kinds of connections. In my opinion, Facebook has only scratched the surface of sharing potential. They can create new ways of connecting cross-functional teams in organizations, for example, in a way that everyone already gets. And large companies are used to paying for their services.
But does the fact that everyone gets Facebook mean it'll always be the gathering place of choice? Obviously not, or many of us would still be on MySpace or Friendster. But I think the fact that Facebook has no loyalty to any specific device or format actually gives it an advantage. Maybe it's because I've listened to too much "neutral platform" propaganda, but I'd say that Google and Apple have too much skin in the hardware game to be open to all who come, however they come.
Anyway, enough of my uninformed rambling. Over at futureoffacebook.com, there's a ton of insight into this subject from noted technologists, investors, writers, even the Henry Ford Museum curator. Anyone out there interested in enlightening me further? Chris Mismash? Chris Anderson?