The Big Challenge Facebook Must Tackle Today

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook is pulling out the stops for a big press event at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., going as far as chartering a bus to take about two dozen reporters back and forth from San Francisco. Everyone from CNN to Gizmodo to Technology Review is on board.

So this is a big deal. And the consensus on the bus is that we have no idea what Facebook’s going to announce.

Here’s a bigger problem for Facebook, though: There’s nothing anyone seems to be dying for them to spring on us—not even the already-debunked notion of a Facebook phone.

Facebook has a boredom problem, among regular users as well as the press.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has talked about how every year, users are sharing more and more about their lives. But that has sparked a backlash among teens who now feel oppressed by the notion of sharing every moment with a growing circle of untrusted acquaintances—hence the surprising rise of disposable photo-sharing service Snapchat, which Facebook has ineptly cloned.

Expressed strategically, we see the challenge in Facebook’s audience numbers, which have stagnated in many developed markets. In some countries, Facebook has reached everyone it’s going to reach, leaving out the very young, the very old, and pockets of dead-enders. Its only growth there will come from increased engagement—which is a challenge, considering that people already spend nearly a quarter of their online time on Facebook.

Hence what we’re hearing about a radical reinvention of the News Feed, the personalised experience you get when you log into Facebook and see updates from your friends and the brands you follow. Facebook may be seeking to bring you relevant news articles, music, and other content from across the Web, without requiring that it be posted to Facebook first.

Facebook has been experimenting with different looks for Timeline, its modernized user-profile page, including eliminating the two-column design it launched with.

It sounds risky to tinker with the core experiences of the site. But Zuckerberg has proven himself a relentless experimenter, outlasting shouts of protest that seem to accompany every design tweak and watching instead what users actually do on the site in response to changes.

The alternative to this chaotic regime of perpetual change is stillness. And boredom.

And Facebook already has enough of that.

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