Opinion

The crumbling Facebook empire

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Are we watching the fall of a digital empire? In terms of market share, Facebook has long appeared as a juggernaut in the online sphere, with a user base topping 2.2 billion individuals logging in at least once a month during the fourth quarter of 2017, according to Statista. But, despite that massive market share, is it losing its share in the minds of its audience?

Facebook’s been in the news a lot lately, from the extensive “fake news” controversy in the wake of Trump’s election, to the new Cambridge Analytica scandal revealing how the platform may have been used to influence voters. But on a smaller, more anecdotal scale, it also just seems to be slipping from dominance among its users — especially the younger ones.

It’s an inevitable life cycle for any popular product. It’s new and cool, then everyone uses it, and eventually it’s old and tired. In the world of technology, that process moves even faster than other spheres, so the fact that Facebook has been successful for over a decade is certainly impressive. And yet, despite being the third most-visited site on the internet, it seems to be slipping away from being cool; it’s less the trendy new avocado toast, and more the old staple McDonald’s burger. People still use it, but they don’t care about it.

I mentioned anecdotes, so here are a couple for you. I heard a story recently from someone speaking to a high school class about social media, who asked them how many were on Facebook. A few, maybe two or three, raised their hands. To people just a few years older, that may seem shocking. More shocking, was that every single one of them used Snapchat. Meanwhile, advice article after advice article tells professional social media users to make Instagram a bigger focus, as interest in Facebook content slips lower and lower.

And whether those two examples are proof of any shift against Facebook or not, they got me thinking. Will there ever be another Facebook? It wouldn’t be a major shock to see this Goliath fall, and while it would be the largest, it’d hardly be the first high profile site to come crumbling down. The difference is, this won’t be Yahoo’s search being crushed by Google, or Facebook itself putting Friendster and MySpace into an early retirement. No one platform seems poised to overtake Facebook. It’ll be eaten away at, piece by piece, until it’s just a ghost of its former self but those bites will be taken by countless other platforms, not a single opponent.

The audience is fragmenting more and more, and if you want proof, just try coordinating a dozen people to all have a conversation together. Facebook group chats seem to be the most reliable option, but when one person doesn’t have Facebook, suddenly it gets complicated — iMessage? Oh, she doesn’t have an iPhone. WhatsApp? Doesn’t run on his old phone. Skype? Does anyone use that anymore? Each network has a different purpose, and most of us are on at least three or four different platforms — but nobody is on all of them, and none of them have everyone on them, especially not in the way Facebook does… for the time being, at least.

The number of options (and good options, at that!) is always increasing, and as the empire Facebook’s built is looking closer to crumbling with each breaking news story, there are countless vultures poised and ready to scoop their small piece of the audience up once it collapses.

Nobody will get all of them, though.

I won’t say that there will never be another Facebook-level success, another platform that dominates the market and cultivates an audience that includes literally a quarter of the world’s population. But I don’t think it will be any time in the next decade. If anything comes close, it may be a non-proprietary system. Don’t think Facebook and Twitter, think texting and email. One interlinked network, but accessed by different apps or websites created and maintained by different companies, all competing with one another to offer the best features to connect to that shared network.

And honestly? Shattering that Facebook monopoly sounds like the best possible outcome for us consumers.

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