"Once every hundred years media changes" announced Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg last November at a press event for it's (now basically aborted) Beacon ad-spying program. It was, of course, a ridicule-worthy statement back then but now, with new numbers showing that the public interest in social networking is fading, it's becoming clear that they just don't make centuries like they used to.
While the news isn't all bad (Facebook's still up, just trending back down to earth), it certainly doesn't spell good news for the long-term viability of social networks.
The problem is that while social networks are fun and addictive, they're not actually all that useful most of the time. For most users of general-interest sites like Facebook and MySpace, it's a video game: collect as many friends as you can, add as many applications as you can, bite a few zombies, and... and... and... suddenly it becomes a bit boring. After all, after a few hundred friends it becomes apparent that you're reaching ("Sure, I guess I can add that friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend"). Eventually, you move on. After all, an infinite number of options are just a click away and I'm sure there's a zombie bite waiting for you somewhere out there. Or, as The Register puts it:
We're not suggesting that social networking sites are totally useless or are going to disappear anytime soon (Friends Reunited is still around? Who knew!) - they're a boon for prying journalists and recruiters for sure, and damn it, Scrabble is a good game. But today's shocking confirmation that their "phenomenal" growth isn't impervious to human nature does make the $15bn valuation Microsoft slapped on Facebook when it paid $240m for 1.6 per cent equity seem even more preposterous, if it were possible.
Add to that coverage of Facebook's announcement that they plan to have a cashflow of negative $150 million this year, and you begin to wonder how it is that the VC's of the world are still holding strong on tossing money down the monetization drain while continuing to insist that companies that are actually making things (*cough*newspapers*cough*) are doomed when they say things like the “perceived value of content is approaching zero" (dig for the quote here). Maybe when you strip away the due diligence and competitive analysis reports, the venture capitalists are really just as faddish as the Friendster users that fled to MySpace that fled to Facebook: the grass is always greener on the other side. Turns out, however, that the money may not be.
So here's to the end of Facebook's hundred years, 99 years premature. May the hundred years that came before last another thousand.