Are the recent changes to Facebook and Google+ the death knell of the social media business model?
The frenzied rush to release new features such as Facebook’s latest changes, along with Google’s updates to their Plus platform, may be the first indication the big social media business model is broken.
Driving the adoption of social media services has been the value they add to people’s lives; MySpace was a great place to share interests like bands and music, Facebook’s is to hear what was happening with their families and friends, LinkedIn is for displaying our professional background and Twitter keeps track on what’s happening in the world.
Now the social media services want to be something else, Facebook wants to become “a platform for human storytelling” where you’ll share your story with friends and friends of friends (not to mention the friends of your mad cousin in Milwaukee) while Google+ wants to become an “identity service”.
The fundamental problem for social media services is their sky high valuations require them squeezing more information and value out of time poor users by adding the features on other platforms; so Facebook tries to become Twitter while Google+ desperately tries to ape Facebook and Quora.
Adopting other services’ features is not necessarily what the users want or need; you may be happy to follow a Reuters or New York Times journalist on Twitter for breaking news but you, and them, are probably not particularly keen on being Facebook friends or professionally associated on LinkedIn.
If it turns out we don’t want to share a timeline of our lives with the entire world but just know how our relatives or old school friends in another city are doing, then the social media giants’ value may not be the billions of dollars we currently believe.
This isn’t to say social media services themselves aren’t going away, it could just be that the grandiose dreams of the online tycoons where they become an identity service or a mini-Internet are just a classic case of overreach.
For Google and Salesforce, whose core businesses aren’t in social media, this could be merely an expensive distraction, but for those businesses like Facebook it could be that MySpace’s failure was an early indicator that making money out of people’s friendships isn’t quite the money maker some people think.
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