Facebook is 10: What’s next for the social network?

Mark Zuckerberg created 'Thefacebook' ten years ago on the 4th of February in his Harvard dorm room. Today the site has more than 1.23 billion users

When researchers from Princeton University published a paper earlier this year suggesting that Facebook might lose 80 per cent of its users by 2017, the internet roared in anticipation.

Despite the fact that the work was incredibly speculative (a point that was hammered home by Facebook’s own data engineers who used the same methods of “scholarly scholarliness” to prove that Princeton itself was on the brink of non-existence) the apocalyptic prediction chimed with our intuitions about Facebook: surely they can’t keep this up for ever.

Today, the statistics that define the site are as impressive as ever. Facebook has 1.23 billion users generating 6 billion likes and 350 million photos every day. Profits for 2013 soared above $1.5 billion with revenue growing by 63 per cent in the fourth quarter. Currently valued at $135 billion, Facebook is set to become the fastest company ever to reach $150 billion.

Ten years ago Facebook didn't even exist, so what's going to happen to it over the next 10?

Read more:
Theory one: everybody leaves.

What is obvious is that Facebook can’t continue to grow at it current rate. Almost half of the world’s internet-connected population is already signed up to the service and its slowing user accumulation has convinced some (the Princeton researchers among them) that the site’s days are numbered.

Metcalfe’s law - the proposition that the more users that are signed up to a social network, the more valuable and popular that network becomes – has helped Facebook grow, but some think that the same concept could also be its downfall. The argument goes: if the slow exodus of users from Facebook begins to snowball then the site’s fortunes could turn more quickly than MySpace’s.

However, there is a major problem with this theory: Facebook isn't MySpace. Unlike MySpace, Facebook has come to prominence at a time when ‘socialness’ operates as a layer over the internet in the same way that the internet has become a layer over our everyday lives, and Zuckerberg's social network is just too deeply embedded into the social fabric of the net to ever go away.

The site controls just under half of all ‘social logins’ online (registering for other sites using your Facebook profile) and although rivals like Google+ are catching up, Facebook has a solid presence for a range of others social features - chat, photos, groups - that make it consistently useful. Socialness is the glue that keeps users stuck to the internet - and thus, stuck to Facebook as well.

Theory two: teens leave.

Alongside Princeton’s doom-like prophecies, another piece of research that supposedly signalled the end of Facebook came from Professor Daniel Miller of University College London, whose paper on the site’s shifting demographics included the quotation that among 16-18 year olds the site was “ basically dead and buried”.

Although the paper itself was far from the sort of one-sided Facebook-bashing that this soundbite suggests (indeed, Miller wrote an excellent blog post about how he was interpreted by the press entitled ‘ Scholarship, integrity and going viral’) it is true that services that offer more private forms of communication (eg Snapchat or Twitter) now have a greater appeal for the younger generations, conscious of the sort of scrutiny that online life can expose them to.

Thankfully, there's more to the internet than young people and the same report that showed teens leaving Facebook also recorded a larger growth in usage amongst older people. iStrategyLab's figures showed that although usage among the 13-17 age group fell by 25 per cent (from 13.1 million to 9.8 million) the 25-34 demographic grew by 33 per cent (33.2 million to 44 million) whilst the 35-54 age range was up 41 per cent and the 55+ age range rose 80 per cent.

If you combine this growth with the site's roster of social features (sharing photos or organising events for example) then Facebook really isn't about the sort of fun, ephemeral interactions that characterise single-purpose apps: Facebook offers far more utility for a far greater number of users. Yes, Snapchat might have made a good addition to Zuckerberg's social empire, but it's not going to replace Facebook any time soon.

Facebook Paper (currently only available for iPhones in the US) could redefine how users access the social network, and bring a new mobile-first generation into the fold.

Theory three: Facebook goes mobile.

Currently, over half of Facebook users access the site via mobile devices, and as smartphones and tablets continue to erode away at traditional PC and laptop sales this share is only set to grow (for more on this trend see analyst Benedict Evan's illuminating slideshow ' Mobile is eating the world').

Although Zuckerberg has admitted in a recent interview with Bloomberg that the company's shift to mobile was "not as quick as it should have been" (failed forays include take-over-your-homescreen add-on Facebook Home and Snapchat-clone Poke) a couple of recent news items show that Facebook's mobile-first future is firmly on track.

A recent earnings report from the site indicated that 53 per cent of the company's ad sales now came from mobile (this is particularly impressive considering that two years ago these ads generated exactly zero revenue) and last week the company also announced the introduction of a new, beautiful looking app named Paper.

This is rumoured to be only the first in a new suite of mobile apps that will re-package the Facebook experience for smartphones and tablets. Paper does away with the complex navigation and labyrinthe menus of the site's desktop offering, whilst also managing to move the Facebook into the mobile news market - integrating stories from established media outlets with Facebook's own 'news feed'.

This seems to be the perfect image for how Facebook imagines its own future: they want the site to be as indispensable as your mobile and to deliver your daily news, like a newspaper. What's more, it seems likely that they'll achieve this - even if it does take them another ten years.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

    £23500 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Essex based I.T solution provid...

    Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: New exciting opportunity has ri...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders