The Flaw & The Future

The Flaw

So Facebook's ascension to the top of the tech tree is inevitable? Thankfully no. There is a flaw in this terrifying vision and it is a flaw at the very heart of Facebook: Zuckerberg's clear contempt of privacy.

Until the recent revamp of privacy settings, the 26 year old CEO had gone on record as saying privacy is no longer a required "social norm". Apple, Google and Microsoft know better - even if they also learnt through the school of hard knocks. Zuckerberg also believes members will eventually merge their social and professional identities. A naive theory which comes from the mouth of an eternal student who doesn't have any real experience of working in the real world. Most of us can't copy Zuckerberg and turn up to business meetings in our hoodies.

Consequently Facebook's biggest strength: its members, is also its biggest vulnerability. Unlike Apple, Google and Microsoft who attract and exert some measure of control over their customers through the quality of the products and services they build, Facebook's attraction lies solely in its members: the simple fact that you are more likely to find your friends on Facebook than any other platform. That it is Facebook is almost incidental, it is simply the site where everyone snowballed.

This makes Facebook more vulnerable than its new big three rivals. It may have potentially more power than any of them thanks to its upward surge, but its audience is also the most fickle. If any noticeable number of members start to leave the whole site risks unravelling as people decide they'd rather congregate elsewhere. Given social networking sites depend entirely on members there would be nothing Facebook could do about it, much like MySpace and Bebo have been powerless to arrest their fall.

The Future

Facebook is currently the world's most addictive game, a powerful numbers game for both itself and its members. Right now it is both trapped and empowered by this, since Facebook must keep adding members to maintain peer social pressure. Any signs of a slowdown or stagnation risk this peer pressure easing, members losing interest and being allowed to move onto the next hot new thing. The danger is Facebook will collapse because it is built around unsustainable momentum.

Zuckerberg knows this and his aim is to build the kinds of services and features into Facebook that make it much more than a virtual YMCA and Like buttons, gaming, music and productivity software are just the beginning. Why it terrifies Apple, Google, Microsoft and just about every other major tech company is because they worry he might just pull it off. With 500m members using Facebook for gaming, instant messaging, photography, document writing, submitting reviews and recommendations, their own products would either be supplanted or become morbidly reliant on Facebook partnerships.

As it stands Facebook is still a long way from achieving this goal and thus remains locked into its numbers game, something that can only be maintained for so long and with ever greater marketing campaigns. It is no coincidence that Zuckerberg will soon appear in an episode of the Simpsons ('Loan-A-Lisa') and Fight Club director David Fincher is about to release Facebook movie: 'The Social Network' (trailer below).

So with 500 million members so begins the race to one billion. It is a figure Zuckerberg admits is "almost guaranteed"...


Facebook 500m Users Official Blog Post

Graphs courtesy of BBC Social Network Statistics

Via The Guardian Privacy no longer a social norm says Facebook founder

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