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Social networks are vulnerable to quickly evolving and changing habits, especially in younger people, as evidenced by MySpace's history. Once the biggest social network out there, MySpace now only a shadow of its former self. As such, it's easy to predict the fall of Facebook or any other social network, but it's far more difficult to do so accurately. After all, people have been predicting the end of Facebook for years now, and others have actually built platforms to try and make that happen, such as Google Plus and App.net. So far, none of these efforts have caused much trouble for the social giant.
However, recently there has been a series of events which makes me think 2013 may be the year this tide turns. While it's still hard to say for sure, it could well be that right now we're at the peak of the market share Facebook can reach before it starts on a downward descent. First, we have the company's recent annual report in which they were far more direct than usual about the potential for young people to turn towards one of the many competing platforms:
''We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook. For example, we believe that some of our users have reduced their engagement with Facebook in favor of increased engagement with other products and services such as Instagram. In the event that our users increasingly engage with other products and services, we may experience a decline in user engagement and our business could be harmed.''
The interesting point here is that they don't see these competitors as being added to users' daily activities, but instead replacing Facebook with other services. Then we have the recent departure of Blake Ross, the company's Director of Products. In his now removed goodbye letter he mentioned that he did an informal survey and found that teenagers would actually answer 'no' to the question of whether they still viewed Facebook as 'cool', and this influenced his decision to leave the company.
Then today we see an announcement that Facebook is going to completely change their newsfeed next week. This company has been making a ton of big changes to its site in recent years, and it's clear they are getting desperate to please users, but my sense is that making yet another change to such a core part of the Facebook experience is only going to alienate people who have come to rely on a consistent routine.
Finally, we have their stock which has not been doing great in the past months. After falling sharply and raising back up last year, which is to be expected for a post-IPO company, now it's looking pretty grim. It peaked in January and has been going down ever since. Of course the stock market is often very much removed from daily operations and may not reflect actual value, but it's very influential on public opinion, which in turn is very important for something like a social networking site.
I don't predict that Facebook will be closing its door by the Holidays, or that they will suffer a sharp downward spiral. But this used to be the site everyone was on. In 2013, for the first time in years, I think this won't be true anymore. I can see people going to Pinterest, Instagram (Yes I know Facebook now owns them), Google Plus, Tumblr and Twitter among others. They will go where their friends are, and it won't be one central site where everybody is. Instead we will see techies hanging somewhere, photographers on another platform, and so on.
People want to spend time where they can get entertained and find worthwhile discussions. Facebook for many now equals a place to play useless little games or be bombarded by brand ads. New apps instead bring in something cool and new, something refreshing for many. Facebook will remain the default portal for some time, the lowest common denominator that you will want to check out once a month to see what your uncle or nephew is up to, but it won't be the daily portal that everyone feels they have to visit. Facebook will become MySpace and be on the way out.