COMMENTARY | The world's most popular social network has brought more people together online than any other, as well as helped them waste millions of hours by clicking on cows. Most of its users would probably consider it a good thing overall.
But as we all know, all good things come to an end. Here are three ways Facebook might meet its untimely demise.
A big-time competitor
It's looking increasingly unlikely since Facebook's spread to the point where for most people, you simply aren't allowed to stop using Facebook. It happened to MySpace and LiveJournal, though. So it's entirely possible that whatever the next big thing is, it gets people to flock to it in droves and stop using their Facebook accounts.
In this scenario, Facebook goes out not with a bang but a whimper. It gets bought out by Microsoft, maybe, then sold to Time Warner five years later for a fraction of its IPO. Ten years later, everyone's like "Can you believe that we used to be stuck on that thing?" as they update their Dreamwidth journals. With even Google+ failing to catch on, though, this is beginning to look like a pipe dream.
The federated social web
In other words, Diaspora. It's called "federated" because, unlike Facebook, it doesn't have a single point of failure or control; anyone can set up a Diaspora "pod" and befriend or share stuff with anyone else. There's no need to give your personal info to any big company and there's nobody censoring your writing or spying on your Web surfing to show you ads. (Well, at least Facebook isn't.)
Moreover, the rest of the web starts to play nice together. Instead of everything using Facebook Connect, they start to use systems like OpenID, where any website can recognize you as the same Jane Doe with an account on another website. Plus, you don't have to use your birth name online anymore, and make yourself vulnerable to stalkers. In this scenario, Facebook either fades out slowly or joins the crowd.
Federal antitrust action
From a certain standpoint, this is a scary prospect. People start companies like Facebook to make money. Will they keep doing it if the government could just swoop in and take it from them?
From another standpoint, though, this is history repeating itself. Some governments don't do well at keeping up with the times, and not too long ago the laws in America allowed an enormous monopoly to basically own every telephone. It was only thanks to antitrust action that phone companies started to compete with each other, and they still tend to abuse their customers.
The most likely end?
Because of Facebook's strong network effects, Facebook accounts have already become like cars for many people: Everyone assumes that you have one, and there are places you can't go and things you can't do if you don't. The people who don't have them are increasingly becoming disenfranchised, just as if a Facebook account were required to travel on certain roads. That's a lot of power to give to a privately owned, money-seeking company, that has no accountability to the people who use it.
The question, then, isn't "Would it be right for the government to break up or regulate Facebook?" It's more like "Why hasn't it already?"
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
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