Let me explain what I mean. Here’s a brief history of Facebook from my own personal experience.
I joined Facebook sometime in mid 2006. It was only open to colleges and universities, quickly followed by cities. Up until that point, the main conversation platforms for myself and my close friends other than in-person conversations, email and the phone were tools such as ICQ followed by MSN chat. Within a few months the majority migrated to Facebook even though it was a step back (lack of chat feature initially) at the same time it was a step forward (social element: 2-way, one-to-many platform, photo sharing, etc…).
Keep in mind that at this point there were absolutely zero “professional/business” accounts other than those disguised as personal profiles. None of my professional contacts knew about Facebook. Facebook was not indexed by search engines in any way. The conversations were still “real”. Virtually nobody had adopted their chatting behaviour to fit the “you’re always on the record” mindset of social media (even though clearly that would have been wise as many are finding out now). It was still thought to be just another private conversation platform which housed content that was purely between the user and his/her “friends” , which at the time were actual friends.
In my case I could post a public status update message inviting “everyone” to a party or gathering because the 40-50 people I had listed as my “friends” were my close circle (and their significant others) that I had known for 10-20 years. People could respond back to the group on my wall without clogging my email, i didn’t have to worry about bounce backs, the content was relevant to all of us, and the interactivity was brilliant. This is the Facebook I liked. This was the reason why I initially joined.
Then April 16th, 2007 happened (i.e. the Virginia Tech Massacre). To me this was a turning point. The mainstream news reporters covering the shootings were creating Facebook profiles in order to be able to use Facebook as a live information source to track student reactions and the shooter’s path in real-time. The marketing industry’s ears perked up and eyes widened. Businesses trying to reach the youth segment did a double take. Facebook? Why aren’t we on there?
It took a tragic event for Facebook to reach the tipping point of user adoption.
The rest is history. Anyone over 13 could join. Advertising was introduced. Businesses started creating groups, then pages. Brands joined in. Parents joined in. Grandparents joined in. People you avoided in the physical world joined in. Shameless self-promoters joined in. And a whole slew of others. Then the process repeated itself in over 100 countries around the world. It’s mandate has expanded considerably as a result of its dynamic culture and adaptability to the changing environment as well as financial pressures (i.e. initial drive towards profitability).
There is nothing wrong with this. As a business, Facebook has done ridiculously well given the low life expectancy of competitors in the space. I just think it has become too many things to too many people (jack of all trades, master of none).
What drove me to write this post however was the realization that my own behaviour and use of Facebook has drastically changed. All of my personal friends still have profiles, we still use it for invitations/RSVP’s, we still post something up once in a while (usually pics or a YouTube video we just want to share), however most of the “real” conversations have moved.
Where to you ask?
Private , closed networks on our smart phones. First it was SMS, then BBM or iPhone chat. The problem was a lack of a standard and easy group chat functionality. Now that nearly all of my close friends have smartphones (except for one) we’re using cross-platform social chat apps designed for that exact purpose. In our case “What’s App” ended up winning over a few others we tried. We’ve essentially come full circle. Back to a core group of friends that I can keep in touch with 24/7 (at the same time) without worrying what my client/grandma/4th cousin thinks.
Kids and teens figured this out a few years ago when their parents started “Facebook creeping” on them. They were and still are SMS’ing like mad well before the smart phone wave came in. The personal profiles, photos and conversations you see on Facebook are increasingly going to be projections of how people want to be perceived as opposed to reality. This was bound to happen given the rise of the digital footprint and importance of the personal brand. I’m just worried that the foundation on which Facebook was built on is starting to crumble. Can the new layers build a new foundation in time, or have they already done so?