Snapchat is the future, and Facebook too.
Facebook is dead. I think that I have been hearing these words consistently since the beginning of Facebook, and at a few times I even did think things might actually be heading that way. When mobile started eating up the Internet, there seemed to be a substantial risk for Facebook to get lost on the way, but for now those days are over and Facebook certainly seems to be here to stay. There is however one little piece of truth to this mantra- the Facebook feed is no longer king of the daily content stream- the place most people are getting their daily updates about the people who are close to them. This is a symptom of the continuing fragmentation trend in social media.
You might remember that back in 2010 Facebook was like a swiss army knife, a one stop social shop. It was where you shared what you had for breakfast, where you chatted with your friends, where you shared your poetry, music and photography skills, or just let everybody know that you are having a blue day. In 2016, most people don’t do that any more. The last time I posted anything to the Facebook feed was over 3 months ago, and I’m not alone.
So clearly, during the past 5 years a lot has changed. One important change is that many people went from having 200–300 Facebook friends to, well, way more. As that occurred- two things happened. First, our audience as Facebook users grew from close friends and family to pretty much everybody we’ve ever met. So naturally we become more vary about what we post and less easy with the finger on the “publish post” trigger. Ironically, simultaneously our feed grew cluttered with updates and pictures of people we don’t really care about at all, and especially those few who are a wee bit too “trigger happy”. Not to mention all the random links and videos people post and the marketing blabber from pages you might have been bullied in to liking. It’s a mess.
Nevertheless, people still want to share what they are doing on a daily basis, and stay updated about what their friends are up to. Luckily, Instagram came to the rescue. By making everyone a decent photographer, and re-setting your audience (i.e. friends list), Instagram lowered the friction* to posting. In order to keep the feed interesting they cleverly make you post one picture at a time- and putting a bit of effort into it. Also, they don’t allow “re-tweeting” so it’s still mostly original content that makes it on the feed. So now everybody can post nice pictures, and scrolling to see other peoples breakfasts has become a more pleasant experience.
But if Instagram is becoming users daily content stream of choice by reducing friction and cleaning up the feed- is it possible to lower the friction even more? Say, finding a way to make people post pictures from their day-to-day lives without having to edit and filter everything? Is there a way to make a feed like that worth watching? Sounds ludicrous? Enter Snapchat.
If you think 3 times before you post something to Facebook, and 2 times before posting to Instagram, on Snapchat you need not think at all. No makeup? No worries. Your pic will only be seen once, briefly, and won’t stay on any digital wall to haunt you. Snap away. Browsing snapchat stories is a completely different experience than the soon to be archaic feed. It can be done at a breathtaking tempo, tapping away posts at sometimes fraction of a second speeds. No time for scrolling here. Also, Snapchat took original content to the next level as it makes it even harder to post non-original content. If you have no idea what I am talking about, then it’s probably because you finished high school too many years ago. Over 70% of snapchatters are still under 25, and a majority of those are under 18. So Snapchat may still look like a stupid app for kids to send each other nudes, but lest we forget that Facebooks early adopters were also a young demographic.
It is undeniable that Snapchat is quickly grasping an increasing share of people’s daily content-streaming time and will keep doing so, but it’s still a bit early to proclaim the death of the Facebook feed. I also have to give the feed product team at Facebook due credit for putting up a good fight with algorithmic feed. Nevertheless, the reduction in friction to post and improvement on feed content relevance has resulted in a clear shift in the center of gravity of the daily-post and consume behaviour from Facebook towards Instagram and ultimately Snapchat. Facebook is of course very much aware of this development, and therefore snapped up Instagram for $1B and tried and failed to do the same with Snapchat for $3B.
So does this mean Facebook is doomed? Far from it. Still being it’s main ad platform and thus revenue source, the feed is very important to Facebook. But critical as it may be, it does not seem to be the main part of the company’s future strategy, which appears to be focusing on becoming the online directory of all people, or simply put- everyones official online ID. Facebook has always been serious about identity, and it is not by chance that Facebook is harassing anyone using a fake name on their profile. You might remember the recent crackdown and the controversies that stirred up. Facebook officially claims that this has to do with safety, but really how much safer does this make Facebook when compared to other social networks that don’t require real names? There has also been a lot of talk about how soon, when the telephone number will be a thing of the past- Facebook aims to take its place with Facebook ID, and the huge amount of resources they are spending to provide free internet to connect people in the third world (to Facebook) is also no coincidence nor charity- it’s straight down good business. Just imagine the power of a company that is well on its way to hold the official online ID for most of the worlds population, and then tell me that Facebook is doomed.
So what we are seeing today is that social media is an industry which is in a process of fragmentation, which will probably result in one platform who will hold your official ID- this is Facebook, and then a whole lot of other social platforms who will cater more or less niched services. Like Snapchat with the daily social content stream, Instagram for people who value aesthetic pictures, and so on. It’s hard to think of another social network which will have the same reach potential as Facebook, so we should not be surprised to see more of these “unicorns” like Twitter plateauing before reaching user counts in the billions. The business of everyone is just not for everyone.
*friction- how annoying it is to do something. For example: Apple lowered the friction for buying apps when they let you authorize the purchase with a fingerprint instead of a password, since touching a sensor is less annoying than typing in a password.