It’s been seven years since Facebook opened its use to those outside of academic settings. It’s been four years or so since it really exploded into the hundreds of millions, even billions of users and became the behemoth of the social networking world it is.
The fad watchers have asked for years now what the next big thing in social media is. And frankly, it’s probably time for something else to appear that diverts our online attentions.
Facebook isn’t doing itself any favors, desperately finding ways to insert advertisements in our attention streams. They’ve gone from no commercial interruptions to enough to be noticeably annoying rather quickly. While most people ignore and move on and it’s not that big of a deal, it’s still becoming more and more of a turn off for users.
This is a result of their IPO and status as a public company. They have shareholders to answer to now. If you’re not growing at a rate of about 20% per year or more, investors don’t want to buy your stock, you begin to become devalued and head’s roll.
It’s not Mark Zuckerberg or Facebook that is effectively ruining the platform. It’s the money-at-all-costs approach of investors that demands it.
Without a revenue stream, advertising to the eyeballs your tool has attracted is the easy option. Another would be to charge users for premium features or even to just use the platform at all. (By my math, if Facebook charged users $1 per month it would probably lose about half of it’s user base, but that means it would have an on-the-book revenue of $600 million per month.) But Facebook has always promised it would be free to use, so that poses challenges, too.
While I am under no illusions that advertising will kill Facebook – but will make the experience simply less than ideal – I do think there is room for something else to come along. Path is one platform I like a lot. It’s a mobile-only version of Facebook with limited friends, so you have to really refine who you connect with. There’s no play for brands and the only revenue play they’ve tried so far is premium filters for photo posts and virtual stickers, which I find silly but several of my friends pay for.
Still, the more Path grows without a revenue stream, the more there will be pressure from investors (just private ones so far … Path isn’t a public company) to make it rain. At some point, they will sell themselves to the God of Commerce and the experience will be less than it is now.
Consumers have been running from advertising models, to a degree, for decades. When something new pops up without the intrusion of “buy me!” and that offers a compelling experience around music, entertainment, communications or other topics the general public is interested in, people flock to it. But eventually, it has to show a profit and pay off investors, so the dream dies, even if just a little bit.
The next big thing in social media? It’s the next pretty cool thing that money will ruin.
That’s a prediction you can take to the bank.