Given that Facebook is only seven years old, and many “social” companies have launched and vaporized in half that time, it’s a little absurd to try to predict which social media brands will still matter in a decade.But that won’t stop us from trying!
Facebook, it seems, is an obvious one. Mark Zuckerberg shows no signs of slowing down, and Facebook has an important transition to make — from the browser to the mobile phone — to stay on top.
But that’s an easy guess. How about the others?
Facebook, now more than 7 years old, should have no problem making it another decade. It's popular, it works well, it's actually making some money, and it continues to evolve.
The big question: As social networking makes the leap to mobile, will Facebook lead the way? So far, it has tens of millions of users on iOS and Android, so it's off to a decent start. But who's to say a mobile-first social network won't come up and do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace?
Even in today's share-everything-online culture, there's still something to be said about keeping your work and personal lives a bit separate online. That's why LinkedIn should continue to thrive as the 'professional' social network -- a living resume, org chart, and business news resource in one.
The big question: Will Facebook somehow eventually gobble up this market?
Let's be real: Twitter isn't going anywhere. It's carved out a very interesting utility: For people to communicate with each other, themselves, with celebrities, and with corporations and governments. On their computers, their phones, their iPads, and on the toilet. It's unique and it's amazing, and try as it might, Facebook isn't going to kill it.
The big question: Can Twitter figure out a way to make enough money to stay independent? So far, the answer is still: Come back next year.
This is a gamble, because Instagram is barely a year old, and that means it needs to live 10 times longer than it already has. It is also only doing something pretty basic so far -- photo sharing -- and will have an incredible amount of competition from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, etc., as it grows up.
But forget that noise! What's amazing about Instagram is its simplicity. And how much joy it brings to its users. That's worth a lot.
The big question: Can Instagram keep growing and eventually figure out a way to make money?
No, that's not a typo. Google is determined to make social part of Google -- not just a feature, but part of everything. And between Google+, Gchat, Gmail, YouTube, and whatever other services it acquires over the year, something is bound to work eventually. Or at least, should be able to stay in the running.
The big question: Is it possible that social really is impossible for Google? Or is that a nonsense idea -- that it just needs to keep trying?
People need to eat. That's not going to change. Also: People like talking (well, writing) about the things they like and dislike. That's not going to change, either. Yelp has built the best social reviews site on the planet. So why would that change?
The big question: Can Yelp successfully make the leap to mobile, or will it get displaced? So far, it's making the right moves -- decent mobile apps, mobile web site, integration with iOS's Siri tool, etc. But Google just bought Zagat and seems set on taking over this market. Also: Foursquare, Facebook, etc.
Spotify, which launched in the U.S. this past summer, actually seems to be catching on. And once you get over the idea of 'owning' all of your music, the idea of streaming your music and sharing it with friends in real-time makes more sense. There are a few big competitors -- Rdio and Rhapsody, primarily -- and Apple may eventually compete directly with Spotify. But for now, this brand seems to be ascending nicely.
The big question: Can it fight off the competition and become the long-term streaming music leader? (And will it ever make a lot of money?)
This one is, admittedly, a bit out-there. You don't really hear about any GameCenter fanatics. (Although it does have more than 67 million users signed up in a little more than a year of existence.)
But logically, it makes sense: Apple's iOS is an incredibly fast-growing gaming platform in the right areas -- mobile and tablets -- and may eventually make its way to TV sets. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Xbox Live is an incredibly popular social console gaming network, but who knows if the Xbox is going to be around in a decade, or if Microsoft will be relevant in mobile gaming?
Zynga is another candidate for this niche, but who's to say it's going to keep pumping out hit games?
The big question: Will GameCenter ever develop a community or personality? Will Apple eventually outsource 'social' to Facebook or Twitter? Will Android wipe iOS into obscurity?
And now, the foreign part of our program.
RenRen is the sort-of 'Facebook of China,' which is pretty important. Specifically, it describes itself as the 'leading real name social networking internet platform in China.'
Facebook, like other non-Chinese companies, will probably always be at a disadvantage there. During Q2, RenRen -- which is traded on the NYSE -- basically broke even on $30 million of revenue. That's not even close to Facebook's financial performance. But it's a start.
The big question: Who knows what sort of Internet rules China will have in a decade? Will Facebook ever announce that long rumoured partnership with Baidu, the Chinese search giant?
It's hard to pick winners 10 years out, especially in a market like China, but this one's a solid bet to still be relevant in a decade.
The big question: Will American Twitter ever be huge in China?
Foursquare: Operating at the lucrative intersection of mobile, social, and local. So far, it has grown nicely, but not ridiculously huge. The question is: Can it create a widely used product beyond the simple friend-finder it started out as? And can it make money?
Zynga: Can it keep rolling out hit games like FarmVille, CityVille, etc.? Can it stay in command of its mutually beneficial (but mutually weird) relationship with Facebook?
Xbox Live: Can Microsoft make itself matter in mobile and tablets? Can it make the Xbox console popular beyond gaming -- perhaps a next-generation set-top box? Or will Xbox be the new Atari?
AIM: AOL had one of the first, best social networks on the planet, and has squandered it. Google's Gchat has stolen mindshare and market share, and Facebook and Twitter are going hard after the messaging market, too. Can AOL actually do something with AIM or is it over?
Tumblr: Another fast-growing social publishing platform, with a focus on photography and images. Huge traffic, cool brand, excellent employees, etc. But burning cash (by design). Can it figure out how to make money someday? Or will it at least eventually find a buyer who will keep it around for long?
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