It might be hard to imagine a day when Facebook isn’t the number one social networking site on the Net but huge social networks have fallen from grace in the past.
The prime example is MySpace which was once the most visited social network on the net from 2005 to 2008. At its peak, if MySpace had been a country, it would have been more populous than Russia, with over 150,000,000 users. Since then, it has declined to 220th in the internet rankings and although Facebook surpassed it long ago, could it one day face the same demise as MySpace?
The first thing to acknowledge is that Facebook has the most important factor of all in its favor – almost a billion users have invested a lot of time and social capital into creating their profiles and building networks within Facebook. It would take something huge to make users turn their back on all that social capital and walk away. Those who smugly switched to Google+ and thought it would somehow topple Facebook from its perch seriously underestimated how important this factor is. However, there are still some potential threats that could finally make users decide that enough is enough.
Death by adverts
Facebook is in a much stronger position than MySpace ever was because its main source of funding is venture capital. MySpace on the other hand relied on advertising to stay afloat and after signing a $900 million advertising deal with Google, bombarded users with ads to the point where they simply got sick of the site. It didn’t help that many of the ads were often semi-pornographic pushing users into the welcoming arms of all together more mature and clean Facebook.
However, it’s no secret that Facebook is struggling to find a way of monetizing its mobile app and advertising is the most likely way forward. Excessive advertising on the mobile app – which will inevitably lead to increased advertising on the desktop app – will only turn-off users and push them towards alternatives such as Google+.
Restrictions on app development
Another problem for MySpace was its strategy for creating site apps. As Facebook embraced developers from outside to develop hugely popular apps such as Farmville, MySpace restricted app creation to those created by it’s own developers. This obviously stifled innovation and led to all sorts of technical problems with apps. However, if Facebook attempts to start increasing restrictions on developers – as we’ve seen with Apple in the App Store and Google in the Play market – users may start to drift elsewhere in search of social gaming entertainment.
Wall post spam
One of the things that turned off MySpace users was the amount of random, and sometimes malicious, posting that apps made to their profiles. On Facebook as well, apps can post information to user’s walls and as many will testify, there’s nothing worse than being spammed by how far your friends have just run using Nike+ (especially if you’re a couch potato) or how many sheep they just sheared in Farmville. Although users can control the type of updates they see on their wall, the frequent changes in privacy settings have confused many which leads onto…
Privacy setting changes
The last thing you want is a drunken status update saying “My boss is a ***** nitwit” or a drunken photo of you with your pants down being somehow visible to your boss because Dave sent it to Pete who shared with his wife Sandra who’s als0 friends with your boss’s wife. The more users feel like they are losing control – even if Facebook claims to be simplifying things – the more they will leave the network.
One redesign too many
Facebook has experimented with various layout changes and not all have been met with approval from users. Using Facebook is now a considerably more complicated experience than it was five years ago and the more users feel like it’s too much hassle to use, the more they will seek simpler alternatives. Google+ for example feels like a much cleaner and calmer experience than Facebook that in comparison, feels like walking into a school playground full of kids that have had too much tartrazine.