Facebook reached 10 years old recently, a significant milestone of that most important of our social networks. In fact, mention social media to anyone and their first thoughts are likely to be of the pale blue-branded website; for many, it could have invented the social web.
At the same time, Facebook announces it’s new Paper news notification system which blends trending news stories with those of your own network. For many years, Facebook was about your network, and the occasionally boring content that it provided you. Now the team from Menlo Park are arguably trying to position themselves as the only online tool you’ll ever need. Yet it has been suggested that its 1.3 billion user base has peaked, and that users are leaving “in their droves”.
This is an interesting turn of events, if true, but the internet’s second most popular website is not done yet. Within its 10 year history, the one thing Facebook has done is evolved. From the early days of being able to poke someone, or declaring to your public that your love life is “complicated”, it has embraced the wider world with trending articles, a ranking algorithm to sort your news feed and of course, advertising.
Monetising networks has never been easy, but it seems like Facebook has settled it down now. Indeed, in 2013, advertising sales reached a claimed $7.8bn. The cost of entry is key to its success; there are cheap ways to buy advertising space with just a credit card, while the biggest brands will dump a heap of cash to get your branded attention.
The user-departing discussion, supported by my own anecdotal evidence, argues that teens are shunning the Facebook experience because their parents, aunts, uncles and even grandparents frequent it. Some studies have also taken place to back this up. The growth of older membership which Facebook probably once encouraged could eventually form part of its demise, if you believe the hype. The network is unlikely to publicly list teens’ usage figures, lest it worry its biggest advertisers who will be hoping that younger users will begin a long and productive profile on the site.
Of course, there are aspects to the user experience that regularly evoke complaint. Interface redesign is one, while even its 10 year build-your-own-video feature upset some of my friends, as their news feeds became clogged with content that they didn’t want to watch. Indeed, my favourite quote about Facebook ties well with this: “it’s like a magazine about yourself that no-one wants to read”.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan. I have family abroad and until FB arrived, I would be drip-fed weeks’ old information via my parents, whereas nowadays, I know when and where my cousins’ checkins are to the second. I shared a great deal of my recent trip to the US via Facebook, meaning that I didn’t need to endlessly repeat what happened when I got back. We take these features for granted, but it’s hard to imagine life without it.
In fact, it was the growth of the smartphone that was the real enabler, as users can check and share content on the move. Away from Foursquare, Facebook probably has the next best geolocation experience too, with tagging and photos connected to places. In a desktop browser, this sort of thing wasn’t easy to do.
So what next for Facebook, even after the launch of Paper? Well, critically, next to so many other online businesses, the company is in profit. Mobile advertising in particular is expected to be the next big growth area. It’s also going to develop it’s own app ecosystem, which would work much like the App Store or Google Play. Certainly, Facebook-hosted games have been a mainstay and hugely popular, such as Farmville.
It’s not going to be the same in 10 years, but as the world’s largest, it’s still likely to be there.