Facebook Fad

It may not be a fad, but it’s also not invincible.

If you ask 46% of Americans, Facebook, the social network valued at $100 billion, the one that you’ve probably already checked a dozen times today, is just a passing fad. That’s what a study from the Associated Press and CNBC says anyway.

Really? First, let’s look at the facts: Facebook has over 800 million users, including 200 million in the U.S. (that’s roughly two-thirds of the country). Even digital immigrants like our parents and grandparents, who have been around long enough to not fall easily for fads, use the platform. So is the problem not with Facebook but with the people surveyed? Are Americans just not smart enough to know a good thing when they see it?

That’s one sentiment expressed across the web today. Geekosystem even put out a list of eight other curious beliefs held by Americans, including that President Obama is a Muslim and that evolution isn’t real. But can we really dismiss the results so quickly, just because half of Americans also think Two and a Half Men is funny?

Not necessarily. Take Myspace, for example. Now a cultural punchline, it’s easy to forget that at its peak in 2006, Myspace drove more traffic than Google. In July of that year, Mashable’s Pete Cashmore wrote, “Clearly, MySpace was an absolute bargain when NewsCorp bought it for $580 million,” a statement which sounds ridiculous today. Last year, the company sold for just $35 million.

And what about AOL Instant Messenger? In the late 1990s and early 2000s, AIM was the go-to tool for getting in touch with friends on the web. Even as late as 2006, AIM still dominated the Instant Messaging market over competitors like MSN and Yahoo. But between January 2011 and January 2012, AIM users plummeted from 12 million users to just 4 million. Between competitors like Skype, GChat, and Facebook itself, it’s unlikely that future generations will have much use for “buddy lists” and “screennames.”

Granted, Facebook has more users today than Myspace or AOL Instant Messenger ever did. So perhaps the survey results stem from how the question was posed. It read: “Do you think Facebook is likely to continue to be a successful company over the long term, or
do you think it’s likely to fade away as new things come along?”

The fact is, anything can be replaced by newer, better technologies. Inventions like steam power and the telegraph altered the course of human history more than Facebook probably ever will, but they were still replaced in time. So while Facebook is a strong company poised for a long run, no product is impervious to technological change, an important point to remember on the eve of its IPO.

Image by Jodi Womack

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