The appeal of using Facebook (as a consumer) to me, and I am sure to many other people, is the sheer volume of my friends (and potential friends) that use the site. For example, just the other day, my roommate decided to throw a party for our entire apartment block, and she went around told everyone “I’ll make a Facebook group so we can sort out the details”. There were absolutely no dissenters, we all had Facebook, and within a few days there were a few dozen members in this group all chatting away. This is a brilliant example of Facebook’s reach, but can we be assured it will last?
All of my friends/my potential friends were also heavy users of MySpace back in the day. We all spent outrageous amounts of time customizing our pages, and “poking” each other, and whatever the hell else we did. But then, one day, there was a mass exodus. I can’t even remember exactly when, or even why we ditched MySpace. Personally I was a bit tired of how much attention and energy was required to maintain a MySpace page, so I was more than happy to go along with the tide. But this was not the central reason I left. I left because all of my friends were somewhere else. I left because all my friends were now on Facebook, just like all of their friends were now on Facebook. Almost overnight we switched our allegiances and abandoned ship. MySpace went from the centre of our social lives one day to a graveyard the next. What are the guarantees that Facebook will not follow suit?
The problem is this: there is no sunk cost. Apart from maybe the time it takes to upload photos (which for many of us is not long at all), and the time it takes to re-find and re-add our friends and relatives (which, as we know their names, is also not a considerable amount of time), we have no investment in Facebook. It is a free service, just like all the other social media platforms. So, if something new comes along that can capture our imagination in ways Facebook cant, it seems unlikely that a few of us would not stray. And then, like a run on a bank, it is all down hill from there. Yes, this has not happened with the likes of Google Plus and LinkedIn etc. but then, they did not have that special spark that won us over to Facebook from MySpace. But there undoubtedly will be another site that does have that special spark, and there is nothing to keep us on Facebook.
I am not saying that Facebook will definitely fail; it has, after all, definitely become more entrenched in our social fabric than MySpace ever did. However, its business structure relies on us continuing to voluntarily give it our attention. We are a fickle bunch, and the Internet provides us the ability to switch our attentions with very little effort and very little time. There are no guarantees that our attentions will not wander in the future in a similar way to how they have wandered in the past. Facebook has no tangible value. Its only assets are its server farms, its original software, and an immense amount of good will. But as I have pointed out with the example of MySpace, this good will is not assured.