Why Facebook Will Die

In the Beginning, there was the Social Network…” Our modern creation story begins just so - from a tiny grain of sand came Something alluring and new. Soon thereafter an unexpected groundswell, a possessed and swarming buzz descended upon the land. It spread by words both digitized and from mouths; lips smacked of it on television screens. A new religion for the masses sprang forth amongst faithful and fervent clicking and with it the promise that all would be welcome, if only by request. Eventually a movie was made, and like prophets of old transcribing visions in the desert, we had documented and preserved our legacy for antiquity. Today, 600 million people subscribe to Facebook. Like others, I believe the social network will continue to grow - but unlike some, I say it will only grow for a while.

In the short run, the Word will spread: to Baby Boomers, late-adopters, and those anointed with the gift of Internet. But in the long run the voices of dissent will prevail, and the movement here in the States will be joined by others the world over in proclaiming the truth. They feel, and justifiably so, that given the tradeoff (what users surrender for what is gained), Facebook is short on both value and integrity. As a result, momentum will fade, public opinion will shift, and users will convert from buy to sell. They'll divest themselves of Facebook and opt for "liking" less risky, more attractive social networks. 

I don't know everything about investing or free markets but I know a little. I know that history repeats itself and diversification is important. In the name of growth and returns, some entities take on extraordinary risk. They can become overvalued or so big, they fail. I know that consumer taste changes, and while loyal up to a point, they're also notoriously fickle. As a result, upset and turmoil in the information economy can result in dissent and dissolution of brand loyalty. Every minute of every day, competition stirs across the planet to meet and create new demand. This is why Facebook will die. 

As wonderful as it is or currently perceived to be, Facebook exists within a free market. Meaning, it's subject to competitive forces and the whims of consumer taste, among other things. For the moment, Facebook is king. It boasts half a billion subjects around the globe and lays claim to a vast empire of riches. But history suggests the horizon carries the arrival of invasion: barbarians at the gate, marauding competitors, or even a threat from within. You can bet they’re toiling now, forging old technologies to new in a plot to divide and conquer. Once strategically positioned, they’ll fire arrows of innovation and herald the trumpets of security and privacy. The old kingdom, newly disenfranchised, will commence facilitating its own overthrow.

For the extended metaphor, this scenario is not far-fetched. That's because most Americans (and subjects elsewhere) are fans of democracy. They relish competition, crave variety, and bet the long shot. Dictators, monopolies, kings... child, please. Not for here, not for long. Call them impulsive or prone to fads, Americans elevate then love to hate - Tiger Woods, Sarah Palin, "King" LeBron James, anyone? Since time immemorial, people have loved to see the fall of Icarus. 

What am I saying? Facebook cannot possibly hold dominance in the face of fickle users and rising competition. But how else is Facebook vulnerable? If privacy is not respected, Facebook will die. No one likes feeling betrayed, and by nature we avoid what can't be trusted. To think that people are squeamish now with the Patriot Act and Google's camera vans - in comparison, those small potatoes. With Facebook, you don't have to be a suspected terrorist to be under surveillance. "The data they collect on users rivals the best and most comprehensive company data base."

Imagine a scenario from the near future where you're at a restaurant enjoying dinner with friends. At a table close to you, a young lady snaps a picture of her date that incidentally captures you in the background. Moments later, she posts the picture to her wall. Thanks to Facebook's new face recognition technology, you get tagged at Mario's Family Eatery with a mouth full of meatballs. Life just got easier! For everyone to know your business, that is - marketers included. But hey, if you're not hip to these new features, it's no big deal. Just set aside 15 minutes of your day to figure how to opt-out. 

One of my favorite lines from the movie, Coming To America, is when Mr. McDowell, after becoming fed up and furious, turns to King Jaffe Joffer and breaks him off with, "I don't give a damn who you are. This is America Jack!" And so it is, a land of freedom and diversity; a place where people give their spirit and support to underdogs just because. In 2011, they live by Burger King's tag line, not Henry Ford's. Whenever King Zuck proclaims, "you may have any social network you like, as long as it's blue and white," the people will say, "we'll have it our way, thank you very much."

And so the story goes. Facebook becomes viewed as tired and shady while competitors rise in the name of fair trade and force the king to abdicate his throne. These will be the social networks of the future, for the future. They’ll battle one another to best fulfill the demands of the enlightened. Their mission statements will tout words like ‘transparency’, ‘privacy’, and ‘respect’. The networks of the future will be innovatively conceived and creatively inspired. Information management will be fun and easy for users - following the prerequisites for design. Now more aware and risk-averse, users will divest themselves of Facebook, and go on to manage a portfolio of more evolved social networks. In the end, a brief commemorative service will be held for the departed. Those who gather to pay their respects to the blue and white screen will do so if only for nostalgic reasons, while not a few will be distractedly checking in to their newest account.


  1. Just saw your link in a comment thread over at Convince&Convert.com. Thanks for the rare & sober analysis.

    The unchallenged mass adoption of Facebook continues to surprise me. The company has done little to prove that it is trustworthy and has grown through cynical exploitation of our modern thirst for recognition and celebrity. In fact it has, quite explicitly, done its best to show just how little it can be trusted: Undermining photographers' copyright through opaque and sneaky terms & conditions; constantly making unannounced privacy changes that require opting out rather than opting in; and showing an unwillingness to protect users from malicious developers who abuse its API. And all of this is set against a murky corporate history tainted with shady startup deals and allegations of backstabbing.

    Still, people are willingly surrendering sensitive data to this cash-hungry company whose drive to monetise itself has just been pushed into the stratosphere by a $50billion investors' evaluation. Facebook hasn't been about friends, conversation and networking for a while now, and it's set to become worse.

    I agree with you that people will get bored and will start looking for alternatives, but the boredom factor will take a long time to affect significant change on its own, since the network effects are just too great at the moment. When I deleted my account some time ago many people were shocked and asked how I would cope with the resulting social isolation (turns out I'm fine, mostly, although I've noticed that I don't really get invited to parties anymore because people tend to create invites on Facebook exclusively).

    My sense is that people will undergo a form of enlightenment in the face of some act that has gone too far. People may be a bit blinkered right now, but they haven't become stupid overnight. And Facebook's owners have the online equivalent of Tourette syndrome - they just can't help themselves and they make ill-considered, unannounced, badly-tested changes and additions to their site all the time, and at some point they are likely to take this one step beyond what even the most unquestioning, baby-photo-posting, Farmville-addicted user is willing to accept. At some point, people will question whether this channel of communication delivers the kind of quality, secure interaction with friends and family that is necessary to build quality relationships.

    Or here's hoping, anyway. I'd love to be invited to a party again, sometime.

  2. Thank you very much for you comment and perspective! Indeed, there is much to be concerned about as FB's tentacles run deep. Add to that a cozy relationship with the White House and the hiring of lobbyists ... it's just a bit much.

    I'm still betting on the fickleness of users, especially in The States. However, boredom and fickleness will not be reason enough for a significant amount of users to depart, there must be innovative competitors.

    All in all, it's not that I detest FB or anything, I just prefer options and want to have more of them quickly! Who doesn't? Too much swagger for any individual, corporation, king, etc. is a turnoff for me.

    Thanks again! I'm now follow you via Twitter. Cheers.

  3. I agree. There needs to be more diversity. That last paragraph pretty much describes the lingo we're using to describe what we're working on which could replace facebook for many people.