Anticipating Facebook's decline

Who would today deny the importance of social media ? They look essential to our digital communications and they are continuously nourished by an increasing viral contamination. We are running from Myspace to Youtube, Facebook, Classmates, Twitter (soon reaching 200 million users), etc. We feel we have to be active everywhere in the social media sphere. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn (70 million users), suggested that "Myspace is the bar, Facebook is the barbecue in the garden and LinkedIn is the office"! And these social media have quickly multiplied: Flickr, Myheritage, Trombi, Last.fm, Plexo in the US, Viadeo in France, Xing in Germany, Jobssip in Spain, Renren Xiaonei in China (an imitation of Facebook, those Chinese name means “the people on the campus”), and even in Africa, on mobile phone, with iYam.mobi, launched by Frotz Ekwoge.
Facebook, after only six years of existence, seems to increase now the affluence of its users by 100 million each three months, according to the phenomenal numbers which are announced. One Canadian out of two would be enrolled, with such fervor that one may speak of "Canada as a Facebook nation". With 635 million revenues in 2009, Facebook may reach the billion dollars in 2010. According to the American Institute Hitwise, Facebook attracts 3% unique visitors more than Google with more pages visited. In the same time the launching of Google me has been again postponed. A creditable estimation figures that Facebook captures today 25% of the internet traffic in the US.

Taking in account that the social desire for being connected, resulting from a prevalent feeling of loneliness in our individualistic social masses, will not diminish, it may look unreasonable to anticipate today the inevitable decline of Facebook. Still, the reasons are many.
Facebook was launched as a platform for adolescents looking for friends. And it remains a daily competition for many of them to increase the number of their friends, not necessarily giving attention to the quality of these relations. As it always happened of such infatuations of younger generations in the past identifying themselves with successive and opposite clothing modes, new dances and musical groups, the Facebook generation will pass and be replaced by the next one. We already hear of Facebook as has been and annoying by younger adolescents. We indubitably observe the same ephemeral trends in the succession of digital tools, gadgets and programs. Digital watches, which have known a legitimate invasive success in the recent past, have almost disappeared of the market today. The mode has turned in favor of big hands on large faces. We almost don’t mention anymore Second Life, a videogame which has encountered a huge success three years ago, and attracted everyone, eager to design his own avatar and let it leave in this virtual space, enjoying a convertible money, real estate speculation, cultural activities, shops and show windows from big trademarks and institutions.
In spite of today’s fervor for transparency and authenticity, friends’ networks such as Facebook give rise to more and more distrust. Of course many ingenious young Facebook users still put themselves their private data files on line, which may be later exploited for the best and the worst. But a recent survey published by Illigo, a French agency of consumers’ behaviors analysis, concluded that 80% of internet users distrust the privacy policies of the social media in general. Facebook itself, the most successful, has been confronted to a series of hard polemics, which have obliged its managers to move back several times and make so called concessions. Nevertheless it remains difficult to get out of Facebook and if you succeed, the site will make you relax, mentioning that in case you would like to come back, you will find your page again with your personal data, the same which you have tried to definitively delete to protect your privacy and life to come! These two faces of Facebook, the friendly one, and the other one with sly data mining are terribly contradictory.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web - twenty-five years ago last November -, has just published an important article to criticize Facebook for being a close platform. Allow us to also underline, in spite of the recent announcement launched by Facebook concerning a new application for interpersonal exchanges aimed to replace the so called obsolete email by a faster and easier way, that Facebook has not yet develop any technological innovation deserving to be mentioned. Moreover, it lacks profundity and content’s quality, dedicating itself to superficial personal exchanges without much to say. l don’t see how this platform will be able to overcome much longer the evident contradiction between naïve exchanges between younger and serious uses of professionals and corporations, such as political, commercial, or humanitarian campaigns, literary, scientific, historical or academic debates, etc. Again we are confronted to two faces of Facebook which are not consistent. Facebook customers are divergent, their activities too and this platform looks evidently to wide not to appear fragile and irrelevant.
Not to mention that the commercial abuse of private profiles and data, which looks inevitable, prompts many users to quit Facebook, and has given rise to an alternative initiative called Diaspora (New York, May 2010), aimed to develop an open source platform allowing all users to control its orientations, policies and uses.

Social media will for sure not disappear, but they will certainly segment more, aiming to better answering to specific communities’ needs. Confronted to the hard competition between such digital empires as Microsoft, Google or Apple, Facebook looks evidently as the most vulnerable of them, not only in spite of its fast and spectacular rise, but because of the excess of it, which results from a superficial and unstructured infatuation. Communications without content are alike water, running from a vase to another. Allow us to use another metaphor: viral contaminations are alike schools of fishes or parrots; they move quickly as blocks without warning. The future of Facebook is more than uncertain. Captive in its excessive success, it would have severe difficulties to redesign itself, and does not seem able to better aim at more specific objectives and functionalities before lousing the favors of the next generation of adolescents and the fidelity of corporative and institutional activities linked to it.
Hervé Fischer

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