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Facebook: The Beginning of the End

This is not another post about the Facebook Terms of Service (TOS) debacle. Well it is, sort of, but the TOS is not my focus. This is about my prediction that we’ve now entered the era of Facebook’s slow decline.

In case you’ve been too busy worrying about your taxes two months early, I’ll recap what happened this week. At the beginning of February, Facebook updated their Terms of Service (TOS). Websites do this all the time. They wrote a blog post about some of the changes, but they failed to mention a major one. This week The Consumerist, a consumer-rights focused blog, wrote about a major change in how Facebook treats the content (words, images, video, etc.) members post to the site. In sum, they were essentially claiming the rights to use those things any way they wished, in perpetuity, even if a member were to delete their account.

There was uproar, and it was warranted.

Facebook responded, but not very well.

This morning, though, Facebook announced that they’ve reverted their TOS to the before-change version while they work on revising it to reflect what their needs are, and to allow for member feedback as they go. They’ve started a group called “Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” to facilitate the discussion.

This, friends, is why I think their happy days are over.

Bill of Rights and Responsibilities? What are they, a committee of bureaucrats whose election coffers are filled with corporate money and who are trying to give their constituents the impression they’re more important than the rich corporations? Because that’s what it means when a So-and-so Bill of Rights starts being drafted. It’s what we call it when we want to give people with little power the impression they’re being heard. Or, at the least, it’s what people who aren’t at all comfortable being honest with their customers call it when they want to give the impression they’re listening.

I’m getting a little high-minded here, and it’s not only the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that signals the demise of Facebook to me. It’s only a speck in the larger picture. The larger picture being that Facebook has achieved saturation. There are now at least three generations of people on there, and that means that soon the young people will come up with a new place to call their own. That’s nature. The stupid Facebook apps that were all the rage a year and a half ago are now just annoying. The site is impossible to navigate. Reconnecting with people we’ve known from bygone eras has been fun, but we’ve been there done that, and isn’t email still the best and easiest way to stay in touch (long form) with friends online?

The reason this TOS fiasco signals what I think will be the site’s demise is that if I were clever and a programmer and knew some great designers, I’d be fed up enough with Facebook to whip something together that would make me happy. It’s how Facebook started and then managed to kill Myspace. It’s inevitable, and I think Facebook has just provided a whole lot of potential inspiration to anyone who’s willing and able to take it and run. Or, well. Maybe nothing will take its place. Even still, I’m pretty sure the great ship is starting to take on water.

Facebook’s numbers may continue to increase for a while as more and more boomers join up, but the kids and/or the young adults will find someplace new to hang out. Someplace simpler, with less annoyance, and with a team behind it that speaks frankly and freely about how they run things and why.

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LittleWit

Let me know if you find the new place. I would love a good reason to jump ship. I am just having trouble cutting the cord..

julie

Lately, I've been feeling that old school email is out of date. Anything but gmail is cumbersome and clunky. I may be late to the game but IM and Facebook have been great communication tools for me. Of course, I am a luddite who still has no cell phone and is very afraid that when I do get one I will start texting like a teenager.

pixie

I think you make a lot of great points but I am not convinced this is the begin of a decline. I did a usability study on text messaging about a year or two ago, and we had kids and young teens come in to test our text messaging application (and interface for setting up msg subscriptions for dating, horoscopes, sports scores etc.

The main thing I got from the kids (and the children are our future after all!). Facebook is for old people, my space is for young people. E-mail is for old people. Seriously, several of them if not all said this out right. I think facebook became a bit of a mess with lots of controversy and facebook has in the last year or two become more “safe” with the way it handles blocking and friends and public profiles etc, and parents I think felt better about a child using it then myspace, but I most certainly think facebook isn't really the main place kids want to connect, and I am very sure something else will come about that is new, with a new paradigm as social networking shifts so constantly. Oh they also said IM'ing was for old people hah. Txt'ing and social networking sites was the way to go, and look 2 years after those kids told me that I myself no longer IM, instead I use twitter and google chat.

Ranting, but anyway… it was really wild to watch those kids use their phones and the physical differences in how they used the phone as well as the philosophical differences in their use.

pixie

I meant to say “myspace has become a bit of a mess”.

Sister Diane

I totally agree… this is start of Facebook's decline. And I believe a new, better system will emerge and sweep away masses of users just as surely as they were swept from MySpace. There's too much opportunity and ingenuity to be had on the web – so there's no reason for any of us to put up with a crappily-executed product like Facebook indefinitely.

Polgara

“Someplace simpler, with less annoyance, and with a team behind it that speaks frankly and freely about how they run things and why.”=> something like Ravelry ??

GinkgoKnits

I think that Twitter and plain old text messaging will be a gap filler for a while. Whatever comes next needs to keep it simple — the addition of apps was not a plus for facebook in the view of many I know.

I joined facebook in nearly four years ago now. That was when it was still adding colleges one by one. The instant it opened up to high school students I was less interested, and when it then became available to everyone, I totally lost interest. I look in at the site maybe once a month but I certainly don't spend the hours I did when I first got on it to see what people at my college were up to (the fact I'm no longer in college and therefore no longer have a fixed community also makes it less interesting to me).

Vashtirama

Just saw a newsclip saying that actually it's the younger ppl who have always been and remain the most loyal to FB. In polls, their faith is unshaken by the TOS debacle. OOH the older demographic is newer territory for FB to conquer–the source of their greatest growth potential. FB was in ascendancy because of the older folks, but their faith is deeply shaken according to polls.
So I agree that this is the start of FB's decline but I expect it to be slow. It will plateau, and this will give someone else a chance to create a better substitute for FB. For me a spell was broken. I don't like the original TOS either and won't overlook it anymore. I'm exploring other places to play.
This is a terrible time for a CEO to be perceived to be a jerk! Or a shark. A CEO who doesn't know that must be blinded by greed. I wonder what kind of offer he got/was preparing to get!

Amy

I don't think its the beginning of the end for Facebook JUST yet. FB is just beginning to crest this wave of general public acceptance. My mom, for goodness sakes wants to join facebook (on the to-do for the weekend as I of course have to set it up for her). FB gets a daily mention on the Today show with Kathy Lee and Hoda, which means that FB finally has great traction in that middle America demographic. Grannies and boomers will start flocking there. Younger generation have spent oodles of time building up their connection and will not just abandon it.

Essentially FB created a great edgy product that then went mainstream. As we all know, when something goes main stream its no longer where the cool kids hang out.

So you are correct in that it is the beginning of the end for innovation on FB. The thought-leaders and the “cool kids” will start hanging out elsewhere.

anonmarch09

I am beginning to hate facebook. I decided to do the new thing of staying off it for 2 weeks except for 30 mins 1x/week and that's it. Wow….it WAS the eye-opener everyone says it is if you want to get off the facebook thing. EVERYONE looked ridiculous…who the hell posts what they are 'doing' on the internet every day? Who cares? Why don't you call your friends and tell them what you are doing??? wtf??? I realized that posting 'status' messages is insane! I put one last one and this proves it '..is increasingly wary of the big-brother-ness of facebook'. Within 5 SECONDS someone commented on it – 'yes we are watching you'. It was written in jest yes but 5 SECONDS!! what the hell. I deleted SO much stuff. I deleted so-called 'friends' who I actually don't even LIKE! and I don't even talk to, even on facebook, and who I wouldn't want to run into anyway in person. I deleted my 'notes'. I actually wrote a notes about myself – to give more information to facebook? Who cares after it's been read anyway – do I really want all those people (the majority who I DON'T like) to read that??? I deleted my info – religion. Who the hell needs to know that? Do they really care?? I deleted my political stance – does anyone really care whether you are republican, conservative, liberal or democrat??? Or is it for information. I deleted my school – if you are REALLY my friend you would know what fucking school I go to. Seriously, anyone who wants to see if they really 'need' facebook in their lives – try the 2 week test – you'll see what I saw…. I hate facebook. I'm deleting my account – very soon –… Read more »

anonmarch09

try the 2 week test :)

anonmarch09

try the 2 week test :)

anonmarch09

I am beginning to hate facebook. I decided to do the new thing of staying off it for 2 weeks except for 30 mins 1x/week and that's it. Wow….it WAS the eye-opener everyone says it is if you want to get off the facebook thing. EVERYONE looked ridiculous…who the hell posts what they are 'doing' on the internet every day? Who cares? Why don't you call your friends and tell them what you are doing??? wtf??? I realized that posting 'status' messages is insane! I put one last one and this proves it '..is increasingly wary of the big-brother-ness of facebook'. Within 5 SECONDS someone commented on it – 'yes we are watching you'. It was written in jest yes but 5 SECONDS!! what the hell. I deleted SO much stuff. I deleted so-called 'friends' who I actually don't even LIKE! and I don't even talk to, even on facebook, and who I wouldn't want to run into anyway in person. I deleted my 'notes'. I actually wrote a notes about myself – to give more information to facebook? Who cares after it's been read anyway – do I really want all those people (the majority who I DON'T like) to read that??? I deleted my info – religion. Who the hell needs to know that? Do they really care?? I deleted my political stance – does anyone really care whether you are republican, conservative, liberal or democrat??? Or is it for information. I deleted my school – if you are REALLY my friend you would know what fucking school I go to. Seriously, anyone who wants to see if they really 'need' facebook in their lives – try the 2 week test – you'll see what I saw…. I hate facebook. I'm deleting my account – very soon –… Read more »

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