The Facebook Bubble

The Facebook Bubble

Facebook is going out of style. Yep, I said it and I’ve been saying it for about a year now. They are facing an imminent future, one that we will refer to as The Facebook Bubble. I could be wrong and I have questioned myself on this, especially post overly verbose discussions with intelligent friends who adamantly disagree. Actually, I could name tons of super smart people who disagree – financial analysts, startup geniuses and Business Reporters. Nevertheless I persist – I think Facebook is going out of style, a path that can only be remedied by developing something new for their users and improving the overall experience.

Facebook, you are not that cool.

Facebook, you are not that cool.

In a Forbes Article published last week, Facebook Reality Check: Death By A Thousand Snapchats, the author discusses the possibility of a decline in Facebook user engagement over the next few years. Overall enthusiasm for using Facebook is declining, especially from the younger generation (16-24), a phenomena being described as Facebook’s “awkward teens” or “midlife crisis.” Meanwhile, this younger generation supplements with increasing their usage of tools like snapchat.com and Instagram.com.  The article even proposes, Facebook could be replaced by Mobile Apps or a new Social Networking site at some point. Overall, I find the ideas in this article pretty inconclusive and the context offends me a bit, reveling around Facebook as some sort Monopoly and completely indestructible. Why is Facebook renowned as a cultural staple, one that we as a web audience could never live without? You know you’ve got a prima donna on your hands when a sweetly projected euphemism, like the “awkward teens” is being used to describe a company’s increasingly disinterested user base due to a lack of improvement in user experience. Sure, Facebook improved the location posting and improved security, but what have they done that’s new or interesting, have they innovated a better way for me to share online? Mobile users increase every day, the industry is blowing up – the Facebook Mobile experience is just like the web experience, except worse. It should be easier, simplified, cleaner, fun (the way Twitter is compared to Facebook.) Some may argue they have improved, their mobile app “isn’t that bad.” Well ok, but the bottom line is when I look back on my overall experience with Facebook in the last 5 years, it hasn’t changed and ultimately, I’m bored.

From the article, Dan Niles a Chief Investment Office of AlphaOne Capital Partners is quoted as saying (about Facebook)

They’ve gotten so big that it’s one of those things you have to use… “You may not like the electricity company, but I guarantee you you’re still getting electricity.

Facebook Monopoly

Can Facebook really be compared to the “The Electricity Company?” Like the “Shoe Company” or “cheese Store” in some obscure provincial town? In the wide, wide world of the webs there is always opportunity for improvement by an increasing number of competitors and at any one moment rest assured that someone, somewhere is creating your product- but better. Facebook, face it, things change everyday and you have to either go get that Facelift you’ve been in denial you need or slowly go out of style. Otherwise, your adoring audience will move on with little apology just as they did with MySpace, Groupon and AOL.com (Oh, I went there!)

Facebook is lacking the innovation factor and I’d like to see them creating “new things.” But, I’m also left curious about their business strategy and cultural attitude towards product development. For instance, their decision to buy Instagram at its height and most expensive price point. Why? Obviously, the product is worth something, but from Facebook’s perspective what value did it have in terms of long-term assets or improved experience and value to Facebook users? If you found yourself asking this same question, maybe you chanced upon this article also on Forbes.com , Top Ten Reasons Why Facebook Bought Instagram. I’ve included an excerpt from the list in this article, I added snarky annotations in italic.

Top 10 Reasons Why Facebook Bought Instagram

1. Because it could.  just like I could buy the Elvis Presley Collector Plates on the Home Shopping Network
2. It is afraid of competition. The most popular website online (save Google) has an inferiority complex?
3. Because Facebook’s Mobile App Sucks. In other words, Facebook is too lazy to create a good mobile app. Too lazy to hire one of the billion people in the world creating quality mobile apps every day.
4. Because buying Instagram is like buying a Sports Car.  So maybe this will help with their inferiority issues
5. Because most people on Facebook look at photos and they want to keep it that way. Why is Facebook afraid people will stop looking at photos on Facebook? If you want users to look at photos on Facebook, improve the experience in this area of your site, create something your users are more excited about using. I mean, after all you built Facebook, surely you could build something better than Instagram?
6. To advertise to more people and collect user data. Instagram users ARE Facebook users, this audience is almost one in the same. They are buying the engagement, which they need to realize can only be earned with an improved experience.
7. Because it wanted to buy ‘soul.’ The most backwards reason of all, I mean didn’t we (as a web creator’s world) already decide back in the 90s to focus on the user experience and maintain the premise that you can’t buy influence with money alone? The idea of a website succeeding because of what is referred to as ‘Soul’ no longer matters on the web. Users want useful, interesting, value added experiences that may include soul – but do not define a reason in and of itself.
8. Because it wanted an Upscale Version of Facebook. Wait huh?
9. Because it’s cheaper than buying a time machine. Umm, whaaaat?
10. Because it’s scared.  Ok, ok that’s just about enough out of you, article.

(Note – this article was actually written in favor of Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. Even from this perspective, you can hear the unconscious voice of the writer, portraying Facebook as desperate and bored. )

The reasons offered in this article are at best, antiquated and at worst – composed by a time traveler from 1998, riding high on the dot-com bubble. The most interesting part about this is I agree with the author – these are the reasons why Facebook bought Instagram. That Pretty much sums up my minds-eye picture of Facebook as a self-satisfied whimsical rich kid who spends his days reeking havoc on ant farms with his magnifying glass.

Facebook is a prima donna, little brat.

Facebook is a prima donna, little brat.

It’s easy to see Facebook has an underlying need for innovation and creative strategy (or care) for improving user experience. Facebook doesn’t need more data, more tools, more reach – it needs to just be more useful and satisfying. For example, why wouldn’t Facebook just create a better type of Instagram for their Facebook and integrate it with the existing Facebook Photos? It could pull all the user’s photos from Instagram, Flickr, Google+, create really beautiful photo albums with all the coolest filters in the world (just some ideas.) While you’re add it, create a better Mobile app for this. In reality, Facebook’s photos & albums are a pain to use, maybe just start with improving that? Instagram is not a complicated application, vintage photo filters and an iPhone app. Is it Popular? Yes. Trending right now? Yes. Has ‘soul’? uh, whatever that means…. Is a Fad with an expiration date? Yes.

Facebook continues to deliver ‘flat’ new experiences (ahem, graph search), sub-par value to advertisers (and obtrusive monetizing methods for users) while making few attempts to improve the site for it’s user’s. This is a problem that can’t be fixed by acquiring a trendy mobile app. Especially as a defensive from a company that is ‘scared’, simply ‘can’ or is too lazy to make something better. If nothing changes, I personally believe (again, I realize not everyone agrees) Facebook will experience a MySpace like bubble deflation within the next 5-10 years. At some point we the users, will have found a better, more fulfilling web experience that may or may not last longer or shorter, maybe it will be a trend or have more ‘soul.’ Bottom line is, we’ll find something that doesn’t suck. And, if we don’t, I’ll be pretty disappointed in the development & startup world for not creating that something.

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