Friday, September 30, 2011

About Facebook

Watching Facebook 'co-founder' Mark Zuckerberg last week stand and explain to an audience his company's latest software developments at their annual f8 conference (in an odd attempt to imitate Steve Jobs unveiling the next iPhone), a thought came to my mind: has the purpose of Facebook changed so much from the original intent that its best years are now behind it?

To try and answer this question, we need to go back to understand why Facebook came about in the first place.

Growing up in the early 1990s, I was part of a generation yearning for a greater connection with the world outside the four walls of my bedroom. The difference between my generation and that preceding it was that now we finally had the tools (i.e. the Internet) to actually do something about it.

Now in an era of ubiquitous Internet, social media has become the 'great enabler' to people young and old; it has allowed us to interact with people in ways that were previously impossible.

To what extent the introduction of social media websites, especially Facebook, has on balance made the world a better place, would seem a moot point. Surely the opportunity to make more connections and spread our personal network across the globe can only make us better off?

In theory yes, but in practice, maybe not.

For social media (the way of meeting and interacting with other people) to be based 'online' and not 'offline', a fundamental question needs to be answered: how much can you trust someone who you have never met in person?

Ask anyone with more experience offline and you get a frank reply: not that much. Certainly not enough to tell them your entire life story. How someone can effectively make this judgment themselves after spending most of their childhood online is a troubling question.

However, there is one potentially self-correcting mechanism in place: people, especially young people, get bored. They want to try new things. After a while, no matter how much fun anything is, everyone wants to try something new. This is why Facebook is trying to change into something else, to keep up with the times.

Unfortunately, this need to adapt to the changing needs of its consumers may ultimately sow the seeds of its own demise.

For Facebook to continue to grow at the breakneck speed it has done so far, it will have to give people the opportunity to do something new. Something different. The latest innovation offers users an easy way to show people everything about their life in one continuous page. An open book, if you will.

Does anyone see a problem with somebody showing everything about themselves to the rest of the world? If you had asked someone this question growing up in the 1990s (or any decade before for that matter), they might look at you in a slightly odd way. Why would I want to do something like that??

Why indeed.

After giving anyone and everyone the opportunity to meet and interact with whoever, however they like, Facebook now has to go a step further in the quest to keep consumers interested. Unfortunately, this may be a step too far for some and may signal a point in time when the seemingly neverending growth of Facebook may be past its peak. Logging off is not that hard to do.