Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who will be the next Facebook?

So, what happens if Facebook doesn't change direction and starts taking its members' privacy more seriously? If it keeps talking about the "wonderful gifts" it's giving the web without taking responsibility for the problems that it's causing? If it responds to the current firestorm with a few kind words and empty gestures, and then goes right back to what it's been doing?

Let's be clear: Facebook can be replaced, and it is expendable. MySpace replaced Friendster, and Facebook replaced MySpace; ergo, Facebook can be replaced. There's no major technical challenge to building a social network. Unlike a search engine like Google or Bing, whose value is based on the years of development that has gone into its algorithms, the value of a social network resides in its members. The more members, the more valuable the network is. If Facebook loses its members' trust, they will find alternatives. They're not the "dumb fucks" that Mark Zuckerberg and some members of the press seem to think they are.

I hate to use the "critical mass" cliche, but Facebook doesn't need to lose a lot of members for it to become "last year's" social network. Social networks, almost more than any other institution, live or die on the appearance of momentum. There are alternatives already in the market that could take advantage of the situation, and new ones that are likely in development that have learned from Facebook's mistakes.

Facebook can become MySpace, and it's on the road to doing so unless it makes major structural, not superficial, changes. Investors should keep their chips warm, because the social network business, which has become "Facebook and everybody else", could change dramatically.
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