As part of The Future of Facebook Project, we’ve been tapping the wisdom of crowds to explore the opportunities and pitfalls for this company and its userbase. We asked the experts 15 questions, and have posted those same questions for the public to answer on Quora.
A few days ago I posted some answers that were given for the question “What are some key issues that could impact the future of Facebook?” Today’s post is on ‘the biggest threat.’
Feel free to post your response here in the comments or on Quora at ‘What is the biggest threat to Facebook?’ We’ll be keeping tabs on the most provocative responses, and inviting those folks to be included in our final video series for the project!
The themes that have been arising through the interview process regarding the biggest threat to Facebook have been varied – some said it could be a major privacy breach, others cited user boredom as the main risk as people search for ‘the next big thing,’ while others said the biggest threat to Facebook is Facebook itself.
Here’s a few of the responses you’ve given so far:
Even Gawker got hacked and we can’t blame Facebook for accessing our information to sell ads. Why don’t we trust Mark? We give our bank account numbers to Paypal and Prosper, our birthdates to just about any site on the web, and our business cards to local prize drawings, so why are we so terrified what Facebook is doing with our baby pics? Facebook is a free service, which needs to generate revenue, which is does through ads, and we hate on them for it. Do we trust LinkedIn more because they generate money through Pro memberships and corporate pages? Ignoring the regulation which is petty and an ongoing battle as corporations find ways to skirt it, a site with a different revenue model could ensure trust. – Kari O’Brien (@KariOBrien)
2. Too big, too fast
Facebook has literally changed the way individuals, groups and organizations communicate, engage and interact. It’s been credited with playing a role in recent revolutions as well as being careless with the privacy of its members. Facebook is a force and it’s only going to get bigger and more integrated into our lives. For this reason, a lot of folks will be keeping an eye on it from governments to activists to watchdogs to the media. Facebook can in a sense become a victim of it’s own success if it moves to quickly or draws too much attention to itself—potentially prompting calls for regulation. – David Armano (@armano)
3. Open ID
Any identification alternative is what Facebook would say is their biggest threat. They are moving to become a “reiteration of the internet” through Facebook ID which other sites like Slideshare are using to “verify” who we are. This identification system isn’t just good for marketing, it’s good for security, it’s necessary for custom portals and personalized experiences across the web, television (Apple TV, etc.) and mobile. Create the ultimate ID and you own the web. – Kari O’Brien (@KariOBrien)
4. A P2P decentralized distributed social network like DIASPORA*
Users will one day realize that they need not rely on the whims of a hub-like website like Facebook to make decisions about their (private) personal data for them and profit from it. – Alan Alves Fortes (@alvesfortes)
What do you think?
What Facebook lacks is any infrastructure to engage people around areas of interest. It does not actually support mass collaboration. This is not an issue at this time, but as the Facebook generation gets older, their priorities will evolve from merely an instinct to identify and develop social relationships towards an imperative to make a more meaningful contribution in the world.
What is needed is a platform that will enable people to connect and work together – to collaborate!
Fortunately, there is a project called ProM that is working on this very problem! The concept is outlined here: http://www.slideshare.net/sureshf/pro-m-draftreview0308111
The current status of the project can be found here: http://cotw.cc/wiki/Project_Matching
ProM will utilize the most important feature of Facebook, visibility into systems! What makes Facebook so compelling is that one can, from a distance, view the social dynamics of their community. They can see who is friending who, who is attending what etc. A platform that both marries systemic visibility with providing people a means to connect on a deeper level will be very compelling!
What people forget is that the Internet is a very new phenomenon. It genesis as a major social force was roughly 1994 during the Netscape days. It is only this generation of youth that have been deeply immersed both in social network models as well as real time infrastructure.
This generation will come of age and will expect more from technology… They will expect it to provide deeper meaning…
If you are interested in learning more about ProM, email suresh at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Venessa Miemis said:
you definitely touched on an area that has come up several times in the interviews – that facebook has the opportunity, now that it has established itself as the dominant provider of the social layer of the web, to open up, turn over social graph data back to the users, and allow them to connect and collaborate, giving the platform a flavor of entrepreneurial activity and opportunity for new businesses to form and jobs to be found.
this seems like a no brainer to me. there seems to be a real innovation bottleneck at the moment because all that latent creative potential is going untapped.
Johannes Ernst made a thoughtful post on the “Death of User-Centric Identity — for Now” a couple of days ago. Nice historical overview and thoughts on how Facebook “won”:
Like Johannes, I don’t see Facebook as user-centric either. It is indeed Facebook-centric as he notes. Part of the reason for this, IMHO, is that we continue to assume that it is through the Web, rather than the Internet, that the future will be built.
As Gary Thompson of CLOUD articulated at TEDxAustin a few weeks ago, the Web is a presentation layer that allows us to see the connections of the Internet. As Gary said in that talk, one of the connections that matters to him are those vital to a cure for cancer. Those connections won’t be found at Facebook but instead across the myriad of data silos from MD Anderson Cancer to Mayo Clinic and beyond.
To resolve these types of connections, the second coming of identity will not be identity only. As I said on a panel at SXSW Interactive this past weekend, identity, privacy, security, data, transparency, etc are not different problems but interlocking axes of the same core problem. CLOUD looks forward to talking more about this at the European Identity Conference in May in Munich.
monika hardy said:
wasn’t able to create an account in quora, so adding comment from there here:
i think Bonnie is spot on:
live (i’m adding multi) video chat and interaction that can be subgrouped by topic/project to collaborate, innovate and create new ways of seeing things and
and i would add:
the multi video chat.. virtual coffeehouse experience, steeped in rich convo,
combined with techs ability to create serendipity, would undoubtedly open portals to trust-based relationships.
rebecca garnett said:
Hi Monkia, hi everyone – we are currently working on a platform such as you describe. It should be ready in beta over the next couple of weeks – drop me a note if you are interested in finding out more.
I am definitely interested in all interesting and innovative collaboration platforms. Especially if they are open source… please email me at email@example.com
Please feel free both to join as well as distribute info via the OpenKollab Google Group. We are a global group of folks thinking about activity that sits at the cutting edge of collaboration.
Venessa Miemis said:
as you know, multiple video chat has been a pet idea of mine too, from the junto concept last year. i recently discovered this API that i’m excited to experiment with as soon as i upgrade the functionality of this blog: http://www.tokbox.com/opentok/
Colin Hawkett said:
The biggest threat to Facebook is their own data model, because that is the thing they are least able to change in any sort of agile manner. Better models of how we relate to each other, with more subtlety and context will deliver significantly greater rewards – rewards that Facebook won’t be able to compete with using ‘Everyone is a Friend’.
Venessa Miemis said:
couldn’t they add my granular profile and relationship metrics though?
Colin Hawkett said:
Definitely Facebook can change their data model, and no doubt they will. There are a few things which make this a difficult proposition – not just for Facebook, but for any incumbent company.
1. As an incumbent, their existing customers expect continuity of experience. This creates change inertia. The world is in uproar when they change the shade of blue on their homepage.
2. Features tacked on to an existing system (which point 1 necessitates) end up creating a mess. The experience lacks cohesion.
3. There are many options out there, and there will be more and more arriving at pace. Any sort of mess Facebook creates will slowly leech customers to other places via the adoption curve.
This is the paradox of most incumbents – it is incredibly difficult to keep customers who don’t have brand loyalty (essentially the ‘early adopters’ in the tech space), so they need to keep the brand loyal customers happy. The guys at the back end of the adoption curve. They need to create the illusion of staying fresh while staying the same.
Given that Facebook wasn’t originally engineered to deliver the holy grail of global social graph modelling perfection, they’ve started from an average position. Their ‘same’ is meh.
They may be able to do a MS Word – slowly iterate to create a monster of ill-fitting addons, before finally trying to clear the decks and attempt a redo. I think the landscape is different here though – the social space won’t allow Facebook that luxury. Too many fresh alternatives without the weight of incumbency. Facebook needs to retain the ‘early adopters’ or it goes the way of myspace. This is Apple’s secret. Stay fresh.
I’m not saying they’re doomed, just that to me, this problem is perhaps their largest.
Jacqui Taylor said:
Facebook and its use of our data is the biggest threat.
Facebook creating a hub for all our web activities exposes this threat even more. I am involved in a current project for them which looks at their future over the next few years. We are particularly focused on exploring this issue.
It is interesting that the curation issues being surfaced were ones which we were exploring in the Google ecosystem a couple of years ago.
I’m keen to see how this initiative of yours evolves.
Venessa Miemis said:
one of the things we’ve been talking about is how powerful that data is in general, and if it’s a very conscious choice facebook is making to not make it more accessible to its users.
after looking at social network analysis (SNA) research, one can see how empowering it may be to be able to see, through a data visualization, who you are connected to, the strength of those relationships, who are the supernodes and influencers, what skills people have, and who those people are connected to.
as an individual with positive intentions – ie. perhaps wanting to seek out others to work on positive social change initiaitives – that info can help them find others and launch things faster.
a counterpoint is that that same information can be used be autocratic governments for surveillance, manipulation, and potentially worse, if they choose to remove key players from a networked community in order to disrupt its effectiveness in self-organizing and creating movements or engaging in political activism.
so….. it makes me wonder whether that data is too powerful to be free at the moment…….
I think your counterpoint is an especially important one to dwell on for a moment. As I read through the news yesterday on the privacy legislation under consideration by Congress, I noted the WH support for it. However, I also noticed that the White House wanted to garner greater powers for the FTC. Ours is not an autocratic government, but this still bothers me.
I tweeted yesterday that privacy and data should be in individual’s hands, not Facebook’s or government. I should not be asking Facebook for permission on how to use my data, nor should I have government watching over my data’s shoulder.
As I said in my original comment on this thread, seen from the perspective of individual web pages, these issues of privacy, security and data will be hard to resolve, even with Facebook Connect. Over the next several months, CLOUD will begin not only its work but that of its growing community to bring forth a new language for the Internet that wraps privacy, data and our identity around us, not web pages.
Your ethos on individuals wanting to reach out faster for positive social change was at the heart of our launch back in 2009. Your good work on raising these vital issues will mean folks are even more ready to take back the control this new language will give them.
Frank B said:
interesting. agree with some of previous comments. would suggest that comparisons with curetogether and patientslikeme are relevant. ‘patients’ share their personal data, in return they gain insight into their condition via info from fellow sufferers and a commitment from the platforms to analyse/exploit the data as a whole in transparant manner (by doing research and publishing results). these are still private/commercial platforms but it has a more transparent, goal-orientated feel to it compared to facebook. what is facebook doing with all that data? the bigger they get the more threatening that will appear. if diaspora or openID type entities get some traction i suspect facebook will become one-of-many ‘services’ as opposed to the core social ‘platform’.
It depends on what it wants to be – FB as a money maker will probably kill it in the end, important to remember that most of us first signed up because it was free and didn’t intrude too much or start making us feel weird.
Organization is very critical – people want to be tuned in around situations like Egypt or in Wisconsin for that matter – whoever does the best job of uniting people along issues will carry the day.
The biggest threat to facebook may well be its efficiency.
As McLuhan apparently once said, efficiency is the worst thing that can happen to an organization. You get going very fast and you end up in … the wrong place.
Why is efficiency bad for facebook? Well, when you efficiently construct a tool that makes all participants extremely transparent and therefore extremely vulnerable to any intelligence agency desire to efficiently control sections of the population (in this case the more or less radical organizers of change) then you are in trouble.
Once the full extent of our on-line nakedness becomes apparent, people will abandon facebook in droves and will – paradoxically – flock to a less efficient service, one that is not as insecure as facebook.
Ellen Naylor said:
People will get fed up when a new group comes along where our privacy is actually respected, where they don’t continually change the rules and assume that it’s OK with us. The latest one was where they decided not to share the news from all your followers, just those you follow the most often. I was wondering what happened to my shrinking list of news! Thanks to a fellow Tweeter, I found out what Facebook had done. They had gone into my account and changed my preferences to only show those followers who I was most responsive to/from WITHOUT asking me. I had to edit my preferences to get back my full list of followers. It’s this kind of behavior that threatens Facebook, and I wonder if over time people will leave it for a more respectful social network.
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