Hubris Always Ends Badly: Will Facebook Fall?

4 May

It’s a lesson as old as the days of the great Greek civilization. Hubris.  Exaggerated pride or self-confidence clouds vision, creates a focus centered on self more than on community and others. I’ve been wondering lately if we may be seeing the signs of a pending fall for one of the giants in the social media world in Facebook. 

For the last several years Facebook has been fighting a battle around how to monetize its business while facing the ever-present rumors about adding user fees and creating backlash that comes and goes. Mark Zuckerberg and company have managed to continue to grow the base of users despite the flare-ups.  However, I’m starting to wonder if the shine is beginning to fade a bit. Facebook has become a haven of Farmville, Mafia Wars, and fan pages for everything.  (Who isn’t a fan of “eating” really??) It could just be my perception but more and more I hear from friends, colleagues, and contacts in my community that Facebook is no longer a “must visit” for them. 

The last straw for many could be the constant privacy creep that continues to erode user control of their data. Now, many users were never savvy enough to control their data in the first place which led to many of the significant “fired because of Facebook” headlines over the years. However, recent changes that limit the option for even advanced users to control aspects of their use and the Social Graph concept are pushing the boundaries of creepy big brother control.  I tend to agree with Dan Costa on his interpretation of the privacy issues around the concept of Facebook providing such detailed history of “likes” with other sites.

Where does hubris fit into this? In recent comments from Zuckerberg, it’s very clear that Facebook will not go out of its way to protect its users’ privacy. When leadership no longer cares what is important to the audience that feeds its own success, I believe you’ve lost sight of your own place in the world. You’ve crossed a line when you believe you’re untouchable. There seems to be a growing sense of invincibility coming from the Facebook folks. A belief that users should “just trust us, we know what you really want.” That is what concerns me as an outsider looking in. Hubris. 

Maybe I’m entirely wrong. Perhaps enough users will continue to love the game apps that Facebook offers regardless of privacy.  Maybe there are enough true Facebook loyalists who will never leave.  However, I wonder how the giant in social media will maintain its position. And what happens if the floodgates open and 400 million users becomes 300? If the walls start to crumble and some leave, the experience for those remaining is diminished.  If your friends aren’t on the site, your experience is less rewarding as you aren’t connecting.  What is the tipping point? Are there enough new users still coming into the funnel to replace the ones that are tiring of stale info and constant changes designed to make the site a more open data source for Zuckerberg and crew to sell? Maybe for a while but somewhere there’s a bright creative student creating the next big thing for consumers like Facebook was…four years ago.

Photo courtesy ajh1963 via Creative Commons

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