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Five Things That Could Kill Facebook

For all the excitement about Facebook’s explosive growth, it somehow feels like a huge fad that could disappear or, at least, dissipate, if something cooler comes rumbling over the horizon. When parents and businesses start embracing Facebook, it’s probably the time for the new “bar” down the street to suddenly get “hot”.

Based on posts by Brad Feld and Fred Wilson, here’s my list of why Facebook could go from fast-growing to so yesterday sooner than we think:

1. The evolution of its business model: What many people like about Facebook is it has a clean, easy-to-access look and feel. You log in, you quickly see what’s been happening in your world, you do your thing. What happens when Facebook starts to introduce more advertising into the mix so it can start taking advantage of its billions of pageviews? Suddenly, the lean look disappears as the business model starts to move onto the scene.

2. In-box Contamination: Facebook works right now because you decide how big or small you want your community to be. As much as Facebook is hot, it’s still manageable in terms of deciding who you want to invite/accept as a friend. But what happens – as Fred Wilson points out – when you’re swamped with Facebook invites? Suddenly, Facebook runs into the same annoying problem as Plaxo and LinkedIn as your in-box gets invitation contamination.

3. Application noise. For all the excitement about Facebook opening its API to the world, it’s also more noise for users. I can’t tell you how many multiple invitations I’ve got for Flixster, for example. It’s already getting annoying. This is an issue Fred Wilson focused on.

4. The IPO: There’s plenty of speculation Facebook could go public later year – a move that would allow Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to pull some money out of the company without giving up control. Once Facebook becomes a business that needs to meet the lofty expectations of Wall St., it’s about the same time that the fun and all-for-one, one-for-all mentality starts to disappear.

5. Facebook Fatigue: Right now, Facebook is fun, it’s new, it’s a novelty but how useful is it really? How long before the millions of people who have piled into Facebook stop checking their profiles every day or, for that matter, every week.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Facebook is a fascinating social phenomena as well as an amazing social networking tool. Maybe I’m being too pragmatic or a non-believer but every party reaches a zenith before leveling out so I’m curious about when that time comes for Facebook.

Note: For an interesting take on Facebook’s future, check out Richard Stelmach’s post on what Facebook could look like in 40 years.

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  • http://www.paperade.com/blog/ jeff

    you might want to correct this:
    “all-for-one, all-for-one”

  • http://500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/2007/06/facebook-world-.html dave mcclure

    hi mark -

    great post, and interesting list. personally, as an advisor to startups (who are all working on or have done Facebook apps), i think i’d be most concerned about what #1 looks like in 6-12 months. the others strike me as less likely / important.

    i’m up at Foo Camp right now, and Adam D’angelo, CTO from Facebook, was up here and gave a small group of us a reasonably deep dive on Facebook Platform. I saw it at the f8 launch as well, but it was great to get to ask Adam questions in a small group & have him walk us through a few scenarios.

    your points #2, 3, & 5 feel like they’re all about the same issue — namely, does Facebook / app / msg overload reduce the interest level in Facebook. while i think we’re already seeing some app fatigue & notification spam, after talking with adam i’m not that worried about this point… the system is somewhat self-correcting in that spammy / less-interesting apps will not be reinforced by your friends in the social graph, and Facebook already can “dial” down the volume on msgs / news feed notifications based on community interest. (interestingly, i think we’ll likely see some of the same community rants we see about Google’s rules for ranking — aka “the Google Dance” — now being applied to Facebook in how they optimize the news feed messaging.

    but overall, when you’ve got 50% (half, is said HALF!) logging in every day, i really don’t think i’m that worried in the community backing off on the stickiness. many of us would LOVE to have this problem.

    re: the IPO, sure some concerns there… but it didn’t kill Google’s fundamental business model or site stickiness, and similarly before when i was at PayPal it didn’t really matter there either.

    the ONE thing i think might be relevant is if Facebook has to tweak their business model down the road, and/or they make some rather subjective decisions on how much money they want to make / how much control they give to platform developers. however, positively for them, right now they’re being pretty wide open and biased towards letting a lot of flexibility in the system. there are obviously risks for startups investing a lot on a platform that’s early in its maturity, but the potential payoff is very large, measured in millions of users (acquired in very short time).

    so overall, i’m still pretty bullish & i’m voting with my feet — i’m encouraging the startups i work with to look pretty darn closely at Facebook & to invest a pretty big chunk of time seeing if they can use it for distribution & customer acquisition. so far, the bet seems to be a good one.

    - dave mcclure

    for some related thoughts on the discussions, see my post here:
    http://500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/2007/06/facebook-world-.html

  • http://mcmanus.typepad.com/ Jeffrey McManus

    The answer to #5, of course, is the same as with all social networks. People will stop checking their Facebook profiles when all their friends stop checking their profiles.

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  • http://www.kinlane.com Kin Lane

    Interesting points on what will do Facebook in, I think you are right. It is likely to be one of them.

    I think also in general the buzz will fade, the press will die down. Something shinier will come along and the Web will just plow forward beyond Facebook.

    Though I am also impressed with it as a platform and social network phenomena, I think it won’t last too long.

  • http://www.vaspersthegrate.blogspot.com vaspers, etc.

    My main complaint against MyFace is the “how do you know this person?” Since I meet most ppl via blogs, Twitter, Jaiku, etc., I have to click “Met Randomly” then explain.

    Why not “met at blog conference”, “present or former client”, “blogocombat comrade”, “met during career moves”, “via another socnet site”, etc.

    Seems myopic and too tightly focused on mating, dating, and skating.

    http://twitter.com/vaspers

  • http://www.fiftyfoureleven.com Mike Papageorge

    Other then the IPO, these points are familiar issues with most other social networking apps.

    The huge difference, for me, is that Facebook has allowed me to re-network with people I haven’t seen or heard from in over 20 years (people who have never used myspace of Virb etc.). No other social app has done that for me, and unsurprisingly, Facebook is the only social app I’ve really used for a serious period of time. Why? Because it wasn’t for networking and work, it was for re-connecting with long lost friends.

    So – if I’m not alone in my Facebook experience – I guess I’m wondering if Facebook has done it right, like Google did with search, and if they have the momentum will be just as hard to move off of the top of the pile as GOOG…

  • http://devinreams.com/ Devin

    Fatigue? You realize it’s been around for a few years now, right? And still growing?

    Inbox contamination? Maybe the first few weeks you join… then it’s just maintaining your network.

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  • Loren

    I think a lot of people in the general community, having recently discovered Facebook in the past year, don’t understand the deep roots Facebook has planted in its foundation at American Universities. I’m class of ’06, and 99% of my friends are bona fide facebook addicts (and have been for about three years now). 99% is not an exaggeration – it’s literally shocking to meet someone at school that doesn’t use Facebook. It has intertwined with the social landscape of college life so fundamentally that I honestly can’t envision how it would disappear any time soon.

    I’ve watched as Facebook has become a bigger and bigger part of each class – ’05 used it a little but graduated before the takeover, ’06 was there at just the right time. The newer classes such as ’09 have had Facebook as a pillar of their social lives since they came to college. That’s not something that can easily change unless something new, better, and (most importantly) with more critical mass comes along.

    With the albums and tagged photos, throwing away Facebook is like throwing away the chronicles of your time at university. On average I would guess that each of my friends have 150 photos tagged of them by other people. For me, leaving those photos behind is is not an option, and I can say that most long time Facebook addicts would agree.

    So while I agree that the community at large may or may not use Facebook a year from now, I can guarantee that its (huge) base of college students are happily and inextricably connected to it for a while to come.

  • http://www.holymoleephoto.com/ Chris

    These are all very valid points. But look at older titan: myspace.com. They’ve been around for so long and theres more spam on there than my gmail box for sure.

    With its growth in numbers, People will eventually grow to see the importance of the relationships and thats what keeps people going to the website.

    As well as the benefit of Facebook being a free CRM service for me to keep in contact with my friends with little ease or effort.

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  • pgrimm

    You forgot #6: Google opening an API for Orkut.com applications or stealing the best features from Facebook and implementing it there.

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  • Russ

    I’ve got a crankier take on Facebook.

    I think that the cavalier attitude towards the content that has made it’s way onto Facebook will be it’s undoing. People writing freely and uploading every picture they’ve ever taken then connecting with every person they’ve ever met is dangerous practice. Right now it’s simply costing jobs and relationships (search the news – it’s happening), but it can get worse. I am among the few who have left Facebook out of fear. I can’t be friends with my boss and have my drinking buddy from 1995 putting up pictures of us getting arrested or passing a bong around. Things are are meant to be private are becoming public in a voyeur’s dreamland, and it’s going to hurt us.

    That said, the scariest part still, is that we crave online networking so badly. A colleague of mine, coined the term “technological hermit”, referring to the folks that would rather email than call or visit in person – the people that find the need to create a virtual world to supplement the real world.

    I work as a web editor, and have been in computers since graduating in ’99. I’m a heavy web user, and have played around with many of the online tools out there. They can be entertaining, useful (picasa, flikr), and fun distractions. That said, when you upload all of your personal content and share it with 9 million users, you have to question whether you’re being truly responsible.

    For those who are truly happy with Facebook, power to you. I don’t hate it or think that nobody should use it. It’s just not for me, and I don’t like that pictures of me will be on it, regardless of my choice.

    Have fun Facebooking – I just got married, I’m joining a soccer league, and I just got back together with my old band. All of the networking I need happens in my kitchen, bedroom, office, on the golf course, or in my favourite pub.

    That’s my Facebook.

    Feel free to write to me about the comment! I’d love to hear other takes on this.

  • http://www.reputrack.com Joseph Fiore

    Mark,

    Great list!

    The previous comment hits on an important theme – is it possible to ever be a part of an virtual community without suffering some of the negative effects of the real world? With Facebook, you have the problem associated to a profile putting an otherwise model employee in an awkward or embarrassing situation because a boss or future employer happens across a photo that was taken at a time when they were young an immature.

    In virtual rooms like Red Light City, you have avatar-based personalities indulging in their deepest and darkest fantasies. The strange part of looking at online experience in the Web 3.0 as a lifestyle replacement is that negative effects portrayed in the virtual world will be considered a form of personal expression, but what happens when people begin to have a problem differentiating between the virtual and real world?

    Has the Web allowed our namespace to evolve and mature enough to understand the difference between the person who gets into character for their virtual-world avatar, and the average person that views their online experience in a holistic way, and how one “portray’s” oneself online doesn’t necessarily imply that they are that way in real life. The downside so far is that if your online footprint reveals an personality too extreme for people’s liking, then you might not be added as quickly to a friends list, or worse, your new boss, potential business partner or client may take a pass.

    We may begin to take notice on just how flawed our current namespace has become with the rise of vertical search engines focused on people. For years, people have been signing-up using mock id’s to avert spammers, and the current sign-in models have no way of identifying that the person registering for an account is who they say they are.

    And as much as I agree with your points on the aspects that could kill Facebook, it will be interesting to see how sites like Facebook and even MySpace with their ability to capture more precise information on its users will work to correct some namespace deficiencies by contributing a more precise ring of person-specific profile data, which could include full name, age, geography, family/friend associations and links to online communities they frequent.

    While this might not be such a good thing for some, there might be a huge potential for a vertical search engine focused on people, especially for employers and recruiters wanting to do background checks on employees or prospects. Difficult to say with any degree of certainty, but it might also be the kind of evolutionary step in allowing others to be more accepting to various online identities and this idea that the avatar isn’t totally modeled after the real life.

  • Paul

    Something else that could kill Facebook — at least the current development expansion — is too many 3rd party app developers crippling their apps in order to lure their Facebook users to their own websites. With all of those eyeballs available, shenanigans are very tempting, and they seem to have already begun. Flixster’s ginormously popular Facebook app has been crippled significantly since the initial launch… what possible explanation could there be for this decision other than manipulative villainy?

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2401194267&ref=mf

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  • PK

    I have two teenagers, whose behavior I observe with respect to their use of technology; it counts for a lot more than just my own opinion as to what is likely to be successful or happen.

    Three years ago, LiveJournal was all the rage. A year or two later, it was MySpace, and my kids were checking and updating their MySpace pages constantly. Then, somehow, overnight, it was Facebook. What will it be tomorrow? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that these things move with a mysterious momentum all their own, as do most fads.

    In short, I’d be leery about pinning too much on Facebook’s long-term prospects.

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  • Jelle

    With all respect to my Facebook buddies, but to all those who ‘request’ to be my friend because you like My Profile I say: let’s not get carried away here. I usually don’t make friends because we once had the same boss, share a Hotmail contact or because, spare me, you “poke” me. P – e – lease.

    If you want to be my friend, come and meet me in real life. Let’s have a chat. Err, down at the local pub I mean. Yours or mine. Or join me on next weekends’ bushwalk around the Inner West Bay!

    What is so social about Facebook, or MySpace, or Bebo or Linkedin anyway? Social. Noun: a party of people assembled to promote sociability and communal activity. Adjective: 1. marked by friendly companionship with others; “a social cup of coffee”;2. living together or enjoying life in communities or organized groups; “human beings are social animals”; “spent a relaxed social evening”. (Source: World Reference. http://www.wordreference.com/definition/social)

    The good news is that there’s a bit of a counter reaction happening. In Australia for example, where a relatively new site called Getalife.com.au is connecting people to meet for a realcup of coffee. Or for a game of soccer at Centennial Park, or a games night at Chris’ place. Or a poke at mine ;-)

    Simply put, Getalife.com.au offers easy to use tools for people to connect based around sporting, cultural or recreational activities. The activity might be a one-off, like finding a couple of buddies for a kayaking trip up Brisbane River. Others get together regularly, like reading groups. If members can’t find what they’re looking for, they can create a group or activity of their own and invite others to join.

    In Australia at least, it seems that Getalife has struck a chord in the hearts and minds of ordinary city slickers who are not seeking to build virtual friendships by ONLY spending time on a computer. Instead, they are people look for alternative, contemporary and independent ways to connect with people in real life, get involved in a wide range of activities, meet people and find friendships (or even love) on their own terms.

    In the age of pokes, cyber kisses, spam and the tons of sleaze and phony member profiles dumped on us, Getalife offers a refreshing alternative to get you personally invited by real members to real events. Not because you’re on an bulk mail list, or because you fit the profile of some sales campaign, but simply because the organiser of the event enjoys your company… in the flesh!

  • http://gmail Kt

    Great article and good points.

    But Facebook is slowly becoming another version of Myspace. The original appeal of Facebook was the maturity level. With Facebook you didn’t have twelve year old girls shoving their chests out and taking whore-ish pictures. Now facebook is open to anyone…and has tons of annoying applications,requests,and raunchy dating site attached.

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  • John

    Interesting article. However, I do feel a need to jump in and respond to some of these other posts. I don’t use Facebook to replace my social life. Of course I see my friends in person, and I prefer it that way. But Facebook is an easy way to communicate to a lot of people in one go, and to keep in touch when I’m at home. Simply put, it’s damn convenient, and it’s simple to use. If it were to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn’t be the end of my world in the least.

    Russ: I can understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think that’ll kill Facebook. It’s stupid to post pictures of oneself smoking pot or getting wasted on Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, etc, but that’s a person’s choice. It’s not the fault of the service, but of people’s own stupidity. I’m much more wary of a society that blames its own stupidity on a technology or service that could be completely harmless if used wisely. With Facebook, like many things in life, you make choices and you can control what information about yourself that gets let out onto the web. As for the “technological hermit” thing, I don’t deny that there are many such people. All I can say for them is that such folks will always try to find a way to avoid meeting society in person, and Facebook doesn’t change that. I don’t think it’s an overly scary thing, nor should it surprise anyone.

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  • http://www.kenyanlyrics.com Kenyan Music Guru

    I used to think that Facebook being a social thing, would have it’s day, then naturally fade. But now I’m beginning to think that maybe Facebook has just got social networking right, and with their extra-solid foundation, they could go ahead and dominate that niche for a really long time.

    A point could reach(if it hasn’t already) where Facebook manages to take control of it’s destiny; where only a monumental screw-up on their part could bring them down. Next year’s IPO could put such a process in motion. Share price adjustments may force them to adjust their design and start trying to fix what ain’t broke.

  • Bryce Lokken

    I think the new danger for FB is the amount of annoying it is becoming. FB used to be an exclusive-ish medium. You used to not be able to have a high school as a network. You were expected to be a certain age. It was people flocking AWAY from Myspace TO Facebook that made it awesome. One color. No annoying HTML.

    And now, we’ve got groups like “OMG I CANT BELIVE THIS STATUS INVITE AL UR FRIENDS 2 SEEE!!!!!’

    Obnoxious, immature, and constantly cheapening the FB experience.

  • http://www.filmgo.net/ smithindavi

    Hai
    your post is very much informative. i enjoy the post through out the reading especially
    The answer to #5, of course, is the same as with all social networks. People will stop checking their Facebook profiles when all their friends stop checking their profiles.

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  • Alex2010

    I’m one of many active facebook user from hungary.
    First time I thaught it’s so cool to sare your feeligs and every stuff what you want (favourite video, photo,…)and seemed to be very awesome website with flashes and applications, but nowadays I’ve realised Facebook has become one of the most dangerous thing to the youngsters.
    I mean it has grown up from the nothing to a huge uncontrolled monster, which has a big influence to the young adults who’re going to be our next generation on this earth.
    Let me think about it; what could causes, if millions of people’s oppinion would in one hand, and people (mainly the youngsters) would act like this? Terrifying…
    It’s kind a hard stuff , that right now millions of people are trying to be better than the others on this website with eg. uploading stranger and stranger photograph about themselves, or posting everything about themselves; even the recent use of their restroom! (mainly 14 year of age girls and boys).Trendy???
    I’m just trying to describe how exposed the economy to this kinda sh*t, and this “tool” how easy can form the people ways of thinking…
    I don’t know does anybody can stop this!
    Please tell me your oppinion if you’ve read this.
    Sorry for my englis. :D

  • Jason

    Tried and tried not to join FB but after launching own site decided needed networking. FB is just full of people making comments! no dialogue, just things like “I like cheese” and then “yeah that cool” what? i’m checking in daily to read this crap from my friends? no thanks! just deleted account fully!!!!! not deactivated!! back on my high horse now that social media sucks

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  • Matthew

    I am an artist, performer, and playwright and find facebook useful mainly as a way to share information about upcoming shows and events, and really want to know what’s going on. But I don’t like facebooks exploitation of users, I don’t like many users exploitation of themselves. And as far as the social effect? There is a degree of narcissism involved. I also lost contact of people I don’t like for a reason. It is fairly disturbing they are in my virtual life now.

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  • screw facebook

    thank you. facebook should be shut down for good. i have never had an account nor will i ever make one. its useless.