Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote: “The only constant is change”. This is especially true on the Internet, where some of the most popular apps, websites and services of today are nothing more than a memory tomorrow.
In a fantastic article this month, Matt Smith described some of the past social networks that preceded Facebook. You may remember many of them, like Friendster, LiveJournal, and of course the former King of the Internet — MySpace.
In the couple of decades that I’ve been crawling around on this sprawling and growing web, I’ve seen one pattern occur over and over: Everyone becomes convinced that those standing on the top of the hill are going to be there forever. Inevitably though, a brilliant innovator from a new generation thinks just a bit further outside the box, and dethrones the king.
It happened with the massive and seemingly endless community of AOL Online during the dialup days, it happened with Yahoo Search and Lycos during the late 1990’s until the rise of Google. And when it comes to Facebook, history is more likely than not to repeat itself. Why?
What’s the Future of Facebook?
I’ve always believed that the best way to prevent a repeat of history is to study the past. If you were asked to name a past social network that had a meteoric rise to fame over a few short years, seemingly poised to take over the entire Internet, before tumbling into obscurity, the first thing that should come to mind is MySpace.
You can see the amazing life cycle of MySpace in Google Trends, and the rise and fall of what many believed was an unstoppable social network is clear as day.
It becomes even more clear when you overlay that history with the rise of Facebook. This is nearly ironclad proof (or at least an interesting coincidence) that the rise of Facebook completely annihilated MySpace.
The rise of Facebook, and it’s current peak, is causing this generation of Internet travelers to make the same claims that people used to make about MySpace. That is, Facebook is and always will be the king of social networks. All hail Mark Zuckerberg!
Is Facebook The King Of The Hill?
In his article on past social networks, Matt wrote that Facebook will not be “dethroned any time soon”, and in his predictions for the future, Matt called Facebook “king”. In Dave LeClair’s coverage of Diaspora, one of the readers commented that “Facebook is definitively the king”, and in Mark’s article on how many Americans are on Facebook, yet another reader wrote “Facebook is the current king of the hill, no doubt.”
All it takes is a quick look at Facebook’s popularity as a search trend compared to Google’s to see just how much of a king Facebook really is (Facebook is the blue line).
So, is that it then? Is Facebook now and forever the ruler of the Internet and king of this hill? Well, to answer that it’s important to put things in perspective, and to first step back in time a few years. What better place to do that, than right here at MakeUseOf, since we’ve been around for so long?
When MySpace Was King
Rewind 7 years. Nearly a decade. A guy named Aibek Esengulov was working hard at building up a relatively new technology blog, and much of the coverage back then was about the biggest and most popular social network of the day — MySpace.
In one of his very early articles in 2006 covering MySpace tools, Aibek wrote: “Do you guyz know that myspace is most popular site on the web, outnumbering Big Brother Google in pageviews.”
How’s that for a trip down memory lane? Aibek added that the monster social network was, at the time, adding 230,000 registered accounts daily. It was bigger than Google. It was rocking the online world like no one had ever seen before. Sounds familiar?
Fast forward back to 2013, and you’ve got Yaara now covering MySpace’s attempt to try and reinvent the sunken ship as a place for musicians and their fans. As the charts above show, interest in MySpace is essentially dead when compared to Facebook. How could such a thing happen to such a giant, when everyone back then thought that it was the ruler of the Internet? Is it possible for Facebook to someday follow the same footsteps?
The Rise Of Google+
If Facebook isn’t careful, the answer to that question will be yes. There could be plenty of threats that come out of left field, but right now the biggest, obvious contender is Google+, and Google is not letting up the pressure. In fact, with its authorship initiative, which I briefly described in my recent article on blogging, it’s clear that Google is going no-holds-barred.
When Google+ got started, you may remember a pretty dismal reaction. There was plenty of fanfare thanks to marketing, but it hasn’t skyrocketed, as you can see from its Trends chart.
Still, it hasn’t died, and it is slowly rising in terms of sign-ups. According to a Business Insider article in May of this year, Google+ is actually outpacing Twitter to become the second most popular social network in the world. Figures released last December revealed there were 500 million people with Google+ accounts. Meanwhile Facebook had 701 million active users.
Actual numbers being reported today around the Internet bring in Facebook at over a billion, and Google+ anywhere from 700 million to slightly over a billion. Either way, the reality is that Google+ is gaining, and gaining fast.
Facebook Needs To Take Google Head On
Here’s the problem that Facebook has to deal with. Google controls the Internet through Google Search. That’s the bottom line. It also controls Chrome, and that’s a problem as well as I’ll show you below.
The problem with Google owning search is that they’ve just delivered a serious blow to Facebook by strengthening the Google authorship connection to search listings with the recent Hummingbird algorithm update. Google is tempting folks by endowing people who have “authenticated” their authorship with a cool little image and Google+ network marketing right there in the search results.
Everyone wants that extra bonus feature for better clickthrough rates. The catch? You need to “confirm authorship” inside your Google+ account. Therefore, to rank well, you need to be a Google+ member. It’s a brilliant move on Google’s part, and Facebook has no way to compete with it.
Also, with the Google+ profile available directly from within Google Search listings, as people browse search results, checking your Google+ profile or posting an update is as easy as clicking in the top right corner of the search page.
Even as companies ban Facebook throughout corporate networks, Google is such an embedded part of Internet access that it’s not as likely that Google+ would get banned. Google+ is getting tightly integrated with Google search, and that is by design.
One might suggest — as much as I love Google — that this represents a bit of a monopoly situation. Microsoft (Bing) has been complaining about it for a while, and if Facebook wants a fighting chance at surviving this race and coming out on top, it might want to consider joining forces and fighting this whole thing in the courts.
Google+ Integration With Chrome
Think about it. Not only is Google taking advantage of its monopoly in the search domain to achieve control in the social network market, but it’s also using its control over the Internet browser market for the same purpose.
Take a look at which Internet browser is now the most popular of the three leading browsers —Chrome (blue), Firefox (red), IE (yellow).
As of 2013, Chrome is well in the lead. How is Google using this to gain a foothold in the social network arena? Well, when you browse sites that have a G+ share button from within Chrome, and if you’re signed into Chrome, it’ll pop-up a notification suggesting that you recommend the story. None of the other buttons do that.
Running the same page on Firefox or IE, that’s just not the case. All buttons behave equally, unless you specifically install a Google+ plugin.
What Is Facebook’s Future?
So the reality is that, yes — Facebook is most certainly king today. I personally love Facebook and post there at least 10-20 times a day. I message friends and colleagues there. I do business there.
However, as history has shown, things change. It could become just as easy to do all of those things on Google+, and with enough pressure from Google’s various monopolies, the major shift there could happen sooner rather than later.
Will Facebook suffer the same fate as MySpace? Will the king be dethroned only to be replaced with a king of an even larger variety? The future is hard to predict, but it sure is fun to speculate, isn’t it? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below.