Why Facebook is a dead man walking

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Art of Can part three

Ok, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. I still believe in the social web, I believe in the power of social networking; I will still use Facebook as a tool for my clients where I believe it to be pertinent.

But I am seeing flaws in the way Facebook are doing things that makes me think that they will pass from dominance like Friendster, Orkut and Friends Reunited before them. I am not saying that this will happen overnight, but it will happen.

It is these factors that this post is about. Some of these factors that have already caused me to re-evaluate my personal usage of Facebook from engaging with my community using the service to piping content from other properties like this blogs RSS feed, Twitter, delicious and flickr to provide the semblance of an active profile without real engagement.

Secondly, to all those people who think that I am just a hater, yes I do realise that since I am bearish on Facebook so no matter what happens I will be eventually proved right, nothing lasts forever. It’s like an IRA spokesperson once said ‘We only have to be lucky once, they have to be lucky all the time’. I have physics on my side: the second law of thermodynamics.

So let me count the ways that indicate the reasons for Facebook’s decline:

  • The money – with some noticeable exceptions the vast majority of marketing campaigns don’t use Facebook well. Now some people do it successfully and last October I heard Ian Jindal talk about a great hostel-booking application and Will McInnis can tell you how to build a highly effective widget. However, when you have people like Sony making failed campaigns on a regular basis, neither the marketing manager or the agency are going to admit that they made a mess. They’ll at best not use Facebook in the future or, at worst, throw Facebook under bus with their peers in their organisation. Word gets around and soon Facebook is fishing from a smaller pond thanks to realpolitik
  • The culture – I don’t work with Facebook, I can only go on the way that the company presents itself and judge it on its actions. But from this I can make some deductions. Its terms and conditions particularly the ownership of any user data is much more onerous than the likes of Google and Yahoo!. With Yahoo! you grant them a non-exclusive license to your content; you can choose to remove the material when you want. With Facebook, they own your data period. This isn’t about putting their business on a legal footing but serving the audience up with a price on their head, and showing a lack of respect for their audience. And I haven’t even talked about Facebook’s privacy infringing marketing practices, of which Beacon was the latest high-profile example. As the saying goes ‘A fool knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. You don’t respect the audience and you lose the audience, you lose the audience and you lose the marketing dollars
  • Developers, developers, developers, developersSteve Ballmer understands the importance of the development community to a platform and part of Microsoft’s success has been its courtship of its development and systems administration communities. Their skills and bank of software has kept Microsoft in its enterprise desktop heartland in the face of free software. Plaxo had to scrap Facebook contact details from analysing images, which is the reason why Robert Scoble got bounced from the network. The company takes a Hotel California approach to APIs (your data can enter, but it can never leave). Add to this the control that Facebook is going to put on developers in 2008 – not exactly right neighbourly now is it? Even Apple bows to their influence and had to give developers an SDK (software development kit) for the iPhone. Also remember that developers are the kind of web influencers who can make and break a service: they lead people on and they can lead people elsewhere
  • Negative network effect – I can’t take credit for this, Ben Brown calls this down much more effectively and with the right amount of bile; but I have noticed that Facebook has become less useful the more people and applications have come on to it. I am so sick and tired of receiving vampire bites, invitations to become a zombie, group messages and event invites that I have to log-in to read or wall-postings that the person never actually sent. I have backed out of my engagement with the site and as Ben mentions he knows a group of his friends that were planning to jump right out of Facebook together
  • User experience – Those of you who use social media read this article and try and put your head in the role of an average consumer. Now with this in mind, navigate your way through the menu and try and find your different pages and information. Try and alter your settings. Try and get your head around the difference between a group and a fan page. Do I need to say more?
  • Innovation – Twitter is light, lean and increasingly the day-to-day choice for early adopters, Korean social network sites Nate.com and CyWorld provide a perfectly integrated experience between web, mobile web and the real world and Facebook becomes clunkier by the day. Even non-players like Yahoo!’s Mash network is slicker, easy-to-use and has some consumer pleasing features from a easily customisable theme and background that doesn’t end up looking like a bit riot the way a MySpace page can, a kaleidescope and a virtual pet

By the time you get to read this I will be touching down in Hong Kong, I realise that you may disagree with me so feel free to shoot me down or add your own reasons for Facebook future demise in the comments section below or post your own viewpoint.