Tech needs villains.
We had Microsoft for a while, Google for another. These days, it’s Facebook. According to some, Zuckerberg is not only after exposing publicly our most private data but he’s also into privatizing the Web to make it a part of Facebook: replacing Web sites by Facebook pages, email by Facebook messages, and so on. Some are worried. It’s true that Facebook’s growth is impressive. And more importantly its usage is massive. Even financials are amazing, with revenue well above a billion dollars from advertising and virtual goods, while social commerce could still bring huge additional opportunities.
Yet, I don’t think Facebook has it all. I know it’s massive but because of that we tend to overlook where it fails.
Facebook didn’t prevent the growth of Twitter, now just only a third of the size of it’s bigger brother. True, the “Social Network” beat the shit out of some early form of social expression platforms such as mySpace or Bebo; but Tumblr is enjoying healthy and rapid growth. And LinkedIn did more than survive by signing up its 100 millionth user and filing for IPO. Last but not least and perhaps more importantly, a number of studies showed that over the past few months, users started to unsubscribe (unlike) Facebook pages of brands.
Why? Because fundamentally, Facebook is built on something very powerful but yet limited: online sharing with friends.
Zuckerberg showed us how engaging this bound was when brought to the Web. Sharing content, pictures and jokes with friends is undeniably fun and rewarding. Out of a social network (a natural connection between people), Facebook became a successful social media (a stream of content distributed by people from your network).
But it’s a social media that has the bias of its underlying social network: friendship. It’s a social media where the relationship between content curators and readers is based on friendship, however large a meaning Facebook wants to give it. You share on Facebook to connect with your friends: to engage them. Even the primary reason for liking Facebook pages is to impact your friends. Yet, my friends are a part of my life but they’re not my whole life.
Therefore, where Facebook stops working in my opinion is when it tries to confuse friendship with areas of interest. The interest graph is NOT the social graph. Most of my friends won’t care about this post for instance. They’re not in Tech: I didn’t write it for them. Similarly, I don’t expect them to share my passion for freeride skiing nor my sometimes-addictive taste in online video games. Yet, all these topics are fascinating to me and I love to exchange socially on them. They form my interest graph and they don’t belong on Facebook.
The disconnect between interest graph and social graph will progressively affect our experience with Facebook in two ways.
First, we feel spammed when brands pollute our news feed by posting too much content (as shown by the survey I mentioned above). Over time, this creates an information overload feeling not so much because the content is not interesting than because it prevents us from accessing the real cool stuff shared by our friends that we signed up for: pictures, news, videos, fun stuff, etc… The fact Facebook users have started to unlike pages shows that this limitation is already at work.
Second, because Facebook is not the media for my interests, we feel the need for some other forms of social media. One that can be based on topics rather than people. Where I could receive but also curate and share content on freeride skiing or video games without embarrassing my friends… or myself. When people follow me or friend me, they have all of me which means tech stuff, ski content and gamers news. What they should be allowed to do is follow my tech stuff but not my ski content nor my gamers news if they don’t care for it. So we need a place where I can curate and share content on my passions and my areas of interest without embarrassing my friends… or myself. And where I could meet and engage with others who share these passions but wouldn’t be my friends on Facebook.
I’m not predicting Facebook’s death nor decline. Again, friendship is massive. And huge volumes will for sure continue to attract and compensate for the limitations I’ve described. But the bigger Facebook will be, the less agile it will be and the more visibly we’ll all see that we need to complete it with topic-centric social media.