Facebook’s main problem isn’t privacy — it’s relevance

In trying to be everything at once, the social network ended up being nothing at all.

Facebook is like that awkward family dinner party you can’t leave. People around you are sharing moderately interesting stories from recent trips they took, they’re commenting on each other’s looks, and they’re arguing about politics.You’re not in control of what topic comes up, the conversation doesn’t really reflect your interests, and it’s mostly aggregated noise.

Except, all this is happening in writing.

As a time-suck that largely consists of memes, ads, and pictures of people I don’t know, I rarely find myself going to Facebook with a specific purpose in mind. The mindless scrolling is usually provoked by boredom, and Facebook is the last resort after the feed of any other available app has been exhausted. In trying to be people’s main source of news and entertainment, as well as a medium for publishing text, photos, and videos, they’ve ended up with a news feed that’s messy at best. Once spoon-feeding me information I’d chosen to receive, it has now replaced what I actually wanted with clickbait and ads. Lots of ads.

Despite giving the occasional “like” and tagging someone in the occasional comment, they don’t proactively create or share content.

As a 22-year-old, I’ve seen a transition happening slowly for years. These days my Facebook friends rarely change profile pictures more than once every two years, and most haven’t posted on their wall in an equally long time. Despite giving the occasional “like” and tagging someone in the occasional comment, they don’t proactively create or share content. The overall engagement among my generation has definitely been on the decline— and this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Facebook OS 2.0

Zuckerberg’s not-so-secret strategy is to make Facebook the operating system of our lives, the way WeChat is in China. Not having WeChat in China is proving itself to be increasingly difficult. Originally a messaging app, it has now expanded into areas such as payments, healthcare, and food delivery. Facebook, on the other hand, has become very easy to live without. You can post your pictures on Instagram, your thoughts on Twitter, and chat with friends on Whatsapp.

But Facebook’s problems go beyond some of the core functions migrating to other, standalone apps. Facebook is increasingly starting to feel like the middle-aged dad who’s desperately trying to stay cool. Mostly because actual middle-aged dads have become the most active demographic on the platform. Facebook was doomed from the moment it became widely used by parents and other adults. Young people want a space for socializing and hanging out that’s free of adult supervision and control. When Facebook couldn’t offer that anymore, young people jumped ship.

In trying to keep the younger demographic engaged, they’ve tried (and failed) at introducing new products with some very cringe-worthy features that have done more harm than good. “LOL”, a cringy teen meme hub that was reportedly being tested earlier this year. Facebook Watch, which never caught on. And recently announced at its F8 Conference – Secret Crush.


Repository of friends

Currently, Facebook’s primary value proposition to users is that it’s a repository of friends and acquaintances. The only thing keeping me from deleting my Facebook profile for good is that it feels like I’ve spent years compiling an address book of people that I’ve met from different walks of life and across the world, and deleting my profile would be akin to burning it. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t really care what most of them are up to. However, there’s something reassuring about having their names noted down somewhere. That person you met on a beach in Thailand during your gap year. That girl you did an internship with during the summer after your first year of university. Your childhood friend from back home that you haven’t seen in 10 years. You’re not interested in these people’s everyday lives enough to follow them on Instagram or add them on Snapchat. However, you don’t want to cut them off completely either, because who knows, maybe your paths will cross at some point in the future.

Facebook’s primary value proposition to users is that it’s a repository of friends and acquaintances.

So Facebook might have lost its cool — but it still serves a purpose. However, with engagement on the decline, its value as a repository of friends is gonna diminish with it.

The network effect

Facebook has one huge asset — scale. Everyone is on Facebook because everyone else is on Facebook. They’ve been successful largely due to this network effect because the service is nothing unless all your friends are on it too. However, recent numbers are showing that young people are turning their backs on the service altogether. According to a 2018 study by Pew Research Center, only 51% of 13- to 17-year-olds in the US say they use Facebook. This is a significant drop compared to the 71% who said they used the service in a 2015 survey. Clearly, Facebook’s effort to appeal to a younger audience isn’t working.

Facebook is not even close to being dead yet, but it’s coming for them. However, this is not going to happen by people leaving the service. What’s eventually going to kill Facebook is the younger generation not even signing up in the first place. This way it’ll be a slow death from below.

Facebook as a company will survive. And grow. Facebook as a product, however, will continue dying a slow and painful death.

The same way your grandma’s address book is gathering dust in the attic, your Facebook profile is one day going to gather virtual dust somewhere on the internet, until all that’s left is an empty shell and 2.7 billion profiles that haven’t been updated since 2014.

All Rights Reserved for Karolina Wullum

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