Facebook and Twitter-Killers No More?

mlazen
Mark Lazen Chief Technology Officer, Social Media Today

Posted on August 14th 2012

Facebook and Twitter-Killers No More?

Chris Voss argues in Social Media Today that Facebook and Twitter (and G+--let's put that aside) are "sucking up all the air" that would nourish new entrants in the social network space. That, unlike their predecessors, they are likely to remain kings of the hill indefinitely.

In the short term, of course, he's right. Facebook and Twitter dominate today and thus it is certainly most likely that they will dominate tomorrow as well. Everything, he suggests (making a number of insightful points in support of his view) is different this time.

Which might be true. Only it almost never is.

There are three types of forces impacting the use of social technology: consumer preferences, product quality and features, and the ecosystem--economic, social, technological and legal--in which consumers interact with products.

It's awfully premature to declare the end of history with regard to any of them.

The intriguing thing about consumer preference is that, for non-commodity products, rebellion and sectarianism are baked in. You will never find a thousand people who all want to be in the same club. We are tribal beings. And though one could argue that Facebook and Twitter are indeed commodities--mere generic, software equivalents of wires and routers that bring us drunken status updates and vacation photos--the fact that the content they deliver is so overwhelmingly social guarantees that they will be perceived as anything but commodities.

As for product features and quality, do we really believe that Twitter and Facebook have crossed some kind of corporate finish line? That they have cracked the code to perpetual success and that all they will do now is take victory laps?

Of course not, and both are roiling to some degree now. Facebook is trying to soothe nervous investors while struggling to solve its core cunnundrum: how to tactfully squeeze money via advertising out of people's social interactions.

You know that guy who's always trying to sell insurance at dinner parties? Yes, you do.

Twitter too is in motion, busily tightening the reins on their API usage in an effort to shore up their business model. And for both these social networks, an opportunity to stand pat will never arrive, because remember, it's not enough to grow, you have to grow faster than you did last quarter.

Every turn of the revenue screw by these players creates potential for altering the dynamic between the services and their customers.

And what about the ecosystem, the most prominent wild card of all? Do we really think the disruptions are behind us now? Is mobile the end? To date, new software and hardware platforms have proven apt openings for agile market invaders with nothing to lose while established behemoths dicker internally and are loathe to turn their focus from milking their most productive cash cows. Or what about potential changes to the politics and language barriers that sequester massive non-Facebook/non-Twitter networks in the far east or latin America? What about a broad reaction against advertising models ala App.net? It's not crazy to think that significant numbers of people--not just geeks--having stared into the maw of a world where even their dreams must have banner ads, would decide that $5 bucks a month is a small price to pay for clean software experiences.

So it's possible we're done with the big disruptions for a while. But take a reality check. if you had predicted that any time in the last 20 years you would have been wrong.

And a final point: the real threat to entrenched social networks does not come from consumers, corporate ossification, or disruptive technology, but from the interplay between them. At some point, a new technological innovation will emerge at just the time that latent tribal dissatisfaction with the status quo is surging, and when Facebook is particularly ill-disposed to respond. This is a complex adaptive system and the butterfly effect is real.

So what do you think readers? Where's the next big social network disruption coming from?

mlazen

Mark Lazen

Chief Technology Officer, Social Media Today

I'm the CTO at Social Media Today, home of the world's best thinkers on social media.

For fifteen years, I've mashed-up content and technology to deliver great customer experiences in news, gaming, 3-D CAD, interactive television and distance learning.

A one-time writer and editor for Time Inc. and others, I made the new media leap in 1995 when I was selected to spearhead digital product development for Time-Life Books. Two years later, I was in Silicon Valley for a multi-year stint with groundbreaking consumer CAD startup Books That Work. That's where I coded my first data-driven dynamic Web sites.

In 1997 I returned to the east coast to direct online sports development for news aggregator New Century Network and later served as a product and project director for online game company Bottle Rocket. In 2000 I was brought in to the publicly traded interactive television company ACTV to direct product development on top of a massively parallel message distribution system and a browser-based operating system approach that would come to be known as AJAX. My team and our cutting edge toolkit were acquired by Harcourt Inc. in 2005, and I served as the Director of Production for all media and software in the development of a series of distance learning programs.

As a partner at Social Media Today since the company's infancy in 2008, I oversee operations, development, design and editorial strategy. Thanks to an incredible team, the company has grown from two communities to 10, and from 30,000 visits per month to 1.3 million.

When I'm not working, you can find me finger-picking a steel string guitar, or weaving through traffic on my bicycle. I live in Jersey with my wife, in a home overrun by dogs and children.

See Full Profile >

Comments

Ted Curran
Posted on August 14th 2012 at 6:49PM

It seems like social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have a predictable life cycle that goes from "free giveaway" to "OK how are we going to pay for this?" 

Just like AOL back in the day, previously free and fun Facebook is now trying to cash in on its market dominance by cluttering the interface with user-unfriendly money-making traps. 

What's good for us and bad for them is that there are always hungry new players fueled by venture capital money who haven't gotten to the "party's over, time to pay" stage in their lifecycle. New sites are springing up all the time, promising to give away for free what your established networks are starting to charge for.

I've been seeing this with my Twitter client Seesmic. What once was a free and amazingly useful tool is now starting to restrict all the *good features* to paying customers, leaving the free version as a shell of its former self. Rather than paying, I can switch to a hungry new client like Bottlenose in public beta to get innovative new features for free. 

The important thing here is that I need to keep control of my social graph so I can take my friends out of one service and put them in another. I had to get tricky to get my friends out of Facebook and into Google Plus, but I managed to do it.

mlazen
Posted on August 14th 2012 at 7:36PM

Thoughtful comment Ted. Thanks.

There are so many factors that affect tool adoption and loyalty--time and effort investment, importance of the utility, inertia of making a change later, cost at adoption, expectation of lifetime costs, quality of the technology, etc. And certainly there are no perfect answers.

I did however neglect to mention the obvious example of Pinterest that demonstrates that a newcomer can elbow in and come to scale with amazing ease--if the idea is right.

yupiqdz
Posted on August 14th 2012 at 11:39PM

If Facebook can kill MySpace then there is no reason that a new network can't kill Facebook. 

Certainly won't be easy, it will have to do something that Facebook does somewhat poorly, and take advantage of that gap until it builds up a critical mass of users. 

I would say if it comes from anywhere it will come with a mobile focus which is one area that Facebook is not very fast moving on (see Instagram) 

CHRISVOSS
Posted on August 15th 2012 at 4:03AM

Great post Mark well said.  Not sure I used the words "indefinetly,"  just that it makes it harder for new companies to compete.  But you're right that companies do cycle eventually.  

Just reading today about insane the integration is I spoke of 

Facebook Says It Now Has 235M Monthly Gamers, App Center Hits 150M Monthly Visitors


Thanks

 

Chris Voss