Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Facebook Isn't Doomed

Jay Yarrow in Business Insider today had an interesting piece on Facebook, saying it's doomed because sleeker one-function apps like Snapchat and Twitter will crush its individual services, which are complicated and burdened by the need to all fit together. This is certainly a real problem, but I think he underappreciates the resilience of Facebook's position and the simplicity with which the issue could be fixed.

Facebook has a tremendous advantage simply by being the first, biggest, and most popular social networking service. Good networks are all about scale, and Facebook remains the most important medium for maintaining relationships across time and space. Additionally, by bundling together different services, Facebook insulates itself from the failure of any single one. This allows time to adapt and incorporate whatever innovation an upstart competitor may have created. The rise of Twitter was a major challenge for Facebook, but its existing customizable profile pages, simple messaging service, and weird "poke" thing remained enjoyable enough to allow the rejiggering of the "wall" into the Twitter-like news feed.

The issue of too many functions creating too much noise could possibly be corrected with better sorting algorithms or design, but here's an even simpler solution: break Facebook into chunks. If problems arise when many different services have to be packed together on the same webpage or application, why not release a bunch of apps that do just one thing? Have a "profile viewer" app, a messenger app, a photo app, etc.  By erecting optional barriers between Facebook's different services, it could partially replicate the design advantages of its competitors. Having a number of minor Facebook apps would also allow experimentation with different color schemes, something that might be helpful in establishing a sheen of "newness" for all those cool-hunting kids.

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