I’ve been using a computer since 1983, and have been active in online communities and sites since the late 1980s. I’ve seen everything from Prodigy and CompuServe to AOL and MySpace come and go as THE popular online destination. But none of these sites could even sniff the popularity that Facebook has right now.
But it’s not going to last.
I was chatting about this with Jill McFarland on Facebook this morning. From my experience, All the online community sites/socnets I have been active on since 1990 have had the same problem: The user base expands to a certain level, and then the site goes overboard in its attempts to monetize that user base, the user experience suffers, and eventually everyone scatters. A lot of people left CompuServe because it was charging $25 a month for 20 hours, then AOL went to an unlimited model (and having the Instant Messaging technology didn’t hurt either). Then internet providers started offering internet access at a rate that was the same or lower as AOL’s price for its online site, and that began to eat away at AOL’s base.
MySpace is/was a free site, monetized via ads. It offered a lot of what AOL had, without charging a monthly fee. But the ads became more intrusive and the entire experience became more spammy, and a lot of us decided to jump sideways off MySpace onto Facebook.
Now, we are just a couple of days away from Facebook’s Initial Public Offering. And just today, it was announced that Facebook’s owners are going to up the amount of their company that they are willing to sell by 25%. There has always been one common problem with all major internet community sites or socnets or whatever you want to call them. Whenever they attempt to monetize, almost all of their monetization efforts come at the expense of the user experience, instead of enhancing it. Come Friday evening, Facebook will suddenly have millions of additional shareholders to answer to. What they want (better return on their investment) will likely be placed above, and probably at the expense of, the user experience.
In that Huffington Post article I linked to above, there was a fascinating comment left by a user that hit me right between the eyes. The user was replying to the idea that Facebook was free and always would be with: “If it’s free then you ain’t the customer, you’re the product.”
Do you think Facebook has a future? Will it still be around in 5 years? Bigger than today? Smaller? What do you see?