Last week Forbes writer Eric Jackson published an article titled “Facebook Still Seems On Track To ‘Disappear’ In 4 Years From Now”. He suggests that in the next four years it could follow the same fate as Yahoo! and MySpace into the ‘has-beens’ section of the world-wide-web. Since Mark Zuckerberg carried out Facebook’s IPO in May 2012 and the collapsing share price that followed, we have seen much discourse as to the company’s future direction and success. The FT reported this week that Facebook shares have fallen nearly 21 per cent in the past month. So what is troubling Facebook and what can we expect from the world’s most famous social media platform?
The main threat for Facebook has been the birth of mobile based browsing. According to Morgan Stanley, in 2013 the number of internet-connected mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, will exceed the number of desktop and laptop computers in use. This is where Facebook has encountered its biggest problems. Other social media platforms such as Twitter offer a far quicker and enjoyable user experience than the slow and lagging one offered by Facebook. Social sites that provide a far simpler platform and largely rely on the use of pictures perform a lot better on smartphones. It was no surprise therefore that we saw Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram last year. However this was perhaps less due to their drive to pursue new possibilities for engagement, but more to do with their fear of being overtaken by a range of new mobile apps that rely on simple photo sharing.
Facebook is also beginning to suffer the age-old conundrum of becoming a victim of one’s own success. As Facebook is now essentially a message board, photo-sharing platform and instant messaging service all in one, it may have to fragment its services to still offer a smooth user experience. With this fragmentation comes the opportunity for other apps such as Pinterest, Reddit, and WhatsApp to take its market share. Also when a company has grown as large as Facebook, redeveloping your products and services can become more difficult and time consuming, with greater opportunity for failure.
This said, Eric Jackson’s sensationally titled piece is still an exaggeration, and an example of clever headline construction. Facebook still has over 1.1 billion users and they are not all going to disappear in a brief four year period. For many people Facebook was the first social media platform they signed up to and many still use it as a useful tool to keep in touch with friends and family and will continue to do so. However a threat does exist from the new mobile world of social media, and the next four years will produce some interesting and difficult challenges for Zuckerberg and his team.