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Facebook and Twitter-Killers No More?
Posted on August 14th 2012
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?