Thursday, June 14, 2012

Has Facebook peaked?

It's been just about a month since Facebook has gone IPO.  As much as there have been hypes of Facebook IPO, there have been just as much disappointments.  I think most of hypes were too speculative to be classified as bubble, and I welcome the readjustment of expectation.  But recently I started hearing a question.

Is Facebook on its way down?

People give several reasons why this may be the case:

1. Too much spams. Advertisement is drowning social interaction.
2. There are alternate social networks available.
3. College and twenty-something users are migrating away to other networks.
4. It's getting more difficult to find relevant content when they want them.

My colleague, Dr. Babin makes a good case on why he believes that Facebook may be on its decline in the next few years ahead.  He likens Facebook to Yahoo, AOL and MySpace, and how these networks became largely irrelevant in today's communication scene.

A recent survey of Facebook users also finds that 34 percent of Facebook users were spending less time on Facebook than six months ago, while only 20 percent of users were spending more time.  These 34 percent of users described Facebook as "boring," "not relevant," or "not useful," suggesting that people are not finding the relevant content through Facebook news feed.

Unlike Dr. Babin, I don't have teenage daughter to give me a anecdotal perspective on how college students feel about Facebook.  But I am in that 34 percent group who spend less time on Facebook than six months ago.  It's mostly because of not finding relevant content easily and it has lot to do with too much feature complexity.

Problem with user like me, someone who does not customize anything but expects things to work for me, is that complexity is inversely proportional to usability.  More mature the product, it tends to have feature bloat, and give user too much control to have it work the way user wants it.  If it's a feature that I don't use, it's hurting usability for a user like me.

Take a look at drop-down menu to control subscription setting on news feed article:

There are 7 options available.  Unless you work for Facebook, I cannot imagine anyone actually knowing the difference between "unsubscribe from <user>" versus "unsubscribe from status updates by <user>".  Most users care about hiding the update or reporting it as spam.  The rest should be handled by the system.  Intelligence behind whether to show the updates from that user in future should depend on behavior analysis of what content I have been hiding.

Does this mean that Facebook is on its way to losing its user base?  Maybe not.  But it certainly has become complex and difficult to find the content that you are interested in.  And that won't help Facebook pick up new users and keep them coming back for more.

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