“There is nothing new under the sun” – Solomon

Updating the world on your status.

Updating the world on your status.

Breathlessly, the media is reporting Facebook’s sagging numbers as teens look elsewhere for sharing and networking.  What will happen?!? Facebook has become the default platform where everyone shares everything. How else will Grandma be able to know if I’m OK, or see our pictures? So, teens are leaving to find a little bit more (perceived) privacy in their social networking.

This should not surprise anyone.

A Short History of Social Media

The history of social networking has always been a cycle of consolidation and diversification. People consolidate towards an accepted platform that develops as a center of social communication, and then after a few years, leave and divide their interests among more options which give more diversity, focus and control. The divided platforms offer a controlled method of communication, even without the features and mass appeal of the previous. Even with less mass appeal, but to a more specific purpose.

  • Bulletin boards were primary method of communicating in pre-HTML internet.
  • NewsGoups fractured the bulletin boards into hundreds or thousands of subgroups and categories.
  • NewsGroups then lost audiences to forums, which offered a broader appeal and easier access.
  • Forums grew and attracted high visibility, but then early social networks started to attract people away, as the development of the personal profile and mutual networks emerged (Orkut, Friendster, MySpace)
  • People gravitated to the ability to have their own “space” online, where they could control their information and present a face to an invited network of friends.
  • Personal blogging started to eat away at the standard networks, as people were able to independently create something of their own and publish to the world – This especially pulled many high-contributing experts away from the forums, as they saw a way to monetize their knowledge and build their own network, rather than contributing to a public forum.
  • FaceBook gained momentum as a way of presenting yourself to the college community, and burst on the scene to a welcoming public.  For many years, it has been the central hub of updates from friends and family – the place to go to keep up with the lives of others.
  • SnapChat is the new place for teens.  As one teen explained to me; “Snapchat is like FaceBook, but for younger, faster people.” Apparently, teenagers don’t like being pestered by their grandmothers to keep them up to date on Facebook.

Until teens do what teens have always done – keep their lives out of the view of adults. So, of course, they gravitate and divide their attention among multiple platforms that allow them to control their “face” to the world in multiple ways. Through temporary images that are quickly deleted after sending to finding better ways of SMS chat without paying the overpriced SMS rates of telco’s.

So, things will happen as they always do. Even in this exploding, fast-paced, digital world – trends are still cyclical.

People are People, and Behavior is Predictable

The “new” is a powerful draw, and the “new” is coming at the market with increasing frequency. Asian social apps such as WeChat, QQ, LINE and KakaoTalk are poised to enter the US market with their offerings, and multiple US-based apps are always apt to steal a portion of Facebook’s users.

Interestingly, what makes this time uniquely different is that the companies that have enjoyed a near monopoly of social networking and digital audiences for the past few years now have to react to the diversification that always happens after consolidation. MySpace didn’t see it coming, or react quickly enough. But even if it had, could it have prevented the trend?  Both Google and FaceBook are facing a trend that is starting the slide away, and their reactions will be telling.

Google has already started their reaction by forcing consolidation. By the recent move of requiring a Google+ account to participate on YouTube comments and voting, Google is attempting to force consolidation of a social networking life onto a market that is trending towards diversifying. I believe that Google+ will not survive as a viable entity without Google’s increasing attempts to implement it into every aspect of Google and artificially creating it as a favored social network. All other social networks grew organically to a point of favor, Google+ was developed inorganically, and any growth will have to be developed by consolidation. Of course, there is resistance to forced consolidation.

Today’s teens will diversify into multiple platforms, and in a few years, maybe less, there will be another social giant that offers a consolidation, and they will gravitate towards that new social media darling. Social Media is here to stay, but in what form?  Will people always accept the openness of the social media life?

The Socially-Networked Life

As one YouTube commenter put it:

“This social media overtake of everything is ruining the internet, there is no privacy anywhere. God forbid I use the internet for something OTHER than putting my entire life for public display.”

The masses are noticing that social networks are asking them to announce their purchases, preferences, comments, likes, votes and any other activity for everyone else to see – especially advertisers who will pay for marketing data about you. The attraction of the internet at one time was the anonymity that it offered. However, there is no profit for anonymity – the profit is your personal preferences and activities created from your social graph.

After a period of social exposure (consolidation), people tend to become more private (diversification), often expressing the observations deftly communicated by this comment:

“We fundamentally want to communicate with one another. What we don’t want to do is go to “Church” every time we need to communicate. Facebook is Church. You have to get dressed up and maintain appearances. People judge you.”