As you have no doubt read about, on 4th February, Facebook celebrated its progression into double-digit age. From the oft-discussed humble beginnings at Harvard, the site has grown into the all-pervasive, socially subcutaneous behemoth that it is today. A celebrated example of the archetypal tech startup dream, the Facebook journey has progressed from a communication medium to a central pillar at the heart of society – with current statistics estimating approximately 1.6 billion users globally (source - Pew Research Centre). If you want to read a detailed history of the Facebook journey, click here for one of the many – this particular one coming from BusinessWeek.
What I’m more interested in (along with many others) is how Facebook will evolve going into the future. The most clear approach to this is to view the incremental addition of additional functionalities, which have been the hallmark of recent years. These additions have often been accompanied by short-term user complaints, with examples including the introduction of Graph Search, or even changes in the format of user’s Timelines.
The level of functionality integrated with profiles has moved on to a point that would have been somewhat surprising even a couple of years ago. Think of the Tinder dating app , that links users with others in a defined radius, accompanied by their Facebook photos; or even the new app that lets you borrow money from your Facebook friends. These are two of many with user profile integration; and mark a point on a spectrum that is moving firmly towards the sharing of more and more personal information, less personal privacy, and the execution of activities that would usually be the remit of alternative avenues.
It would be remiss of me not to also mention the commercial aspect of Facebook’s success. Along with many others, I keenly followed the progress during and after the IPO – as the stock price dropped like a stone before surging back upwards in the following months and years. A LinkedIn article gives a view on hiring trends at the company, and shows the importance of the selling mechanism – particularly focusing on mobile ad revenue, which is the main profit driver. With so much personal data available for targeted advertising, Facebook could be argued to know consumers better than they know themselves. As mentioned by Zuckerberg in the BusinessWeek article that I referenced earlier, this focus on mobile is only going to grow stronger – with the addition of new functionalities, such as the ‘Paper’ reader app - supporting that push to mobile.
However, an interesting point is the context of other social media companies; namely the example of recently IPO’d sector peer, Twitter, whose stock price dropped sharply following its Q4 earnings report. Revenue was on target, but usage figures did not impress. Concerns were that: “growth and engagement numbers suggest Twitter may not be able to achieve mainstream adoption and the advertising revenue that comes with it.” (source - http://mashable.com/2014/02/06/twitter-stock-drop-earnings/). This is an issue that Facebook are cognisant of, and will be a primary reason behind the drive to add new functionalities such as the ones mentioned earlier - to combat recent rumblings of user disengagement caused by a set of different reasons. Examples of these include parents and relatives being on the same network as their children , privacy concerns, procrastination and impact on job-hunting (examples taken from “Reasons to deactivate Facebook" on Mashable).
As for myself - some of these very reasons caused me to deactivate my own profile recently. Perhaps I will re-join, perhaps I won’t; but I will definitely be following the progress of the Facebook juggernaut to see what developments the will foster, to keep users engaged, and thus keep advertising revenue flowing in. With any luck, my FOMO will not rear its ugly head. Happy Birthday to the worlds’ largest social network.