The death of Facebook?

The fate of Facebook is a hot-button topic for anyone interested in social media and while the social network is likely to remain a dominant player in the short-term, here's how easily things could unravel.

I recently delivered  the keynote on Social Media and the Future at Marcus Evans’ CIO Summit and was asked a question that is seemingly on the lips of anyone interested in social media. That question is of course the fate to Facebook and whether it will still be the dominant social network in five years.

I think the degree of uncertainty on this front is too high to make a firm prediction. However, given the current market landscape and trends over the last couple of years, the most likely outcome is that Facebook will still dominate.

In structured futures studies, one of the most powerful tools is trying to build plausible scenarios for how alternative outcomes to what is expected could come to pass. In this case, we need to tell a credible story on how Facebook loses its predominant position in social networks.

So if you’d like to stretch your brain or have an interesting conversation with your friends, then build a scenario of how Facebook will fail.

I won’t go into a detailed analysis here, but will just suggest some of the elements that may be part of that story:

  • Facebook overreaches and pushes many of its users to look for an alternative. This would almost certainly be related to privacy, driven by over-commercialisation by the newly public company.
     
  • There is a viable alternative. If we are looking at a five year time frame, then it would almost certainly have to be Google , which gets its act together and draws in far broader participation. It seems very unlikely that Twitter will seek to become a broad-based social network. Microsoft, which has a powerful platform to build engagement, has only just launched Socl, and Apple today has no real foundation for a social network. If we look much beyond five years then a yet-to-be launched social network could rise to become dominant. It is less than six years now since Facebook became open to the public.
     
  • Not essential, but a possible element in the story is a dramatic shift to open social networks, potentially a distributed non-commercial social network. Open social network Diaspora* has not yet launched to the public however is now in a Y-Combinator program and is expected to launch in the next few months. Privacy or other breaches of trust could support a shift to open platforms.
     
  • A massive shift of social networking activity to mobile platforms creates an opening for one or more of the major mobile players to leverage their position.

On the face of it, while there are plausible scenarios for Facebook to stumble and be supplanted containing some of these elements, they are not likely to play out within the next five years.

Facebook’s extraordinary global dominance in social networks today will take some serious shaking to erode in the next five years. But beyond that there are many ways that could see Facebook supplanted.

How do you see this playing out?

Ross Dawson is globally recognised as a leading futurist, entrepreneur, keynote speaker, strategy advisor, and author. His Trends in the Living Networks blog is ranked as one of the top business blogs in the world.