10 Years Of Facebook: Brilliant Past, Uncertain Future

If you can believe it, Facebook turns 10 years old tomorrow. That seems completely wrong until you realize that February 4th, 2004 was indeed 10 years ago, even though for anyone over 30 or so the year 2004 seems more like 10 minutes ago. Facebook’s influence on the world is undeniable, with its 1.2 billion users and inspiration of a new generation of social media sites and services that have become the new way people young and old communicate and stay in touch. But things are changing in the ever-fickle tech world, and Facebook is in danger.

Regardless of what the numbers may or may not indicate, and irrespective of what Facebook execs such as Sheryl Sandberg say, the site has a serious teen problem. Need proof? Go talk to any ten randomly selected teenagers and ask them about Facebook. You’ll hear that Facebook is “dead”, that it’s for old people (ouch), that they hate the drama perpetrated by their peers on the site, and so on.

Facebook teens

There are several reasons for teens to stay away from Facebook--some legit, some not so much. For one thing, Facebook is no longer a “cool party” where you can hang out and connect with friends; it’s been taken over by parents--and grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, neighbors, and other uncool people in teens’ lives. For all the debate about Internet privacy and how younger generations are more okay with less privacy, it seems that young users’ tolerance actually stops at their bedroom doors.

There are also many more social media options for people to enjoy, and younger users are generally more likely to explore them. These include, but are by no means limited to, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, SnapChat, Google+, YouTube, Digg, and Reddit. Although it’s possible to be an active user of a number of different social media sites simultaneously--and plenty of folks do just that--people are going to have their favorites. Thus, although there are plenty of teens who are on Facebook, many of them aren’t necessarily using it as much as they are other sites.

Instagram feed

Which brings us to a third issue with young people and Facebook. Unlike sites such as Twitter and Tumblr, where you can sign up, follow a bunch of people, and never make a post of your own, Facebook is predicated on interaction. You can’t just consume content; you have to produce it, otherwise the site doesn’t work as it’s designed, but that’s not how all young users want to play it.

But even as the earth under its feet is shifting, Facebook is constantly in a state of evolution. itself. Facebook could milk its massive user base until everyone dies off several decades from now (admit it, if you’re a certain age, you and your friends, siblings, and parents will probably stick with Facebook until you’re old and gray), but the company continues to look at ways of remaining relevant. Snapping up Instagram, for example, was a smart move.

Facebook Paper mobile news
Facebook's Paper

To wit, Facebook’s new Paper mobile news app. Paper mixes user-generated content with content from actual news outlets to keep users abreast of what’s happening in the world in real time. It would seem that Mark Zuckerberg wants to replace your newspaper with Facebook, and he’s definitely on to something there.

How much news do you first hear about via your Facebook NewsFeed? Probably a lot, and possibly more than you think. Facebook is already a news source, as are other social media services, most notably Twitter, but the formats are egregiously unceremonious.

For instance, there’s a generation of people that can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the Kennedy assassination. Those of us who were adults when 911 happened can tell you the same about that landmark event in our lives.

But when we killed Osama Bin Laden, like a lot of people I learned about it when thumbing through Facebook in bed. (It was a post from a casual acquaintance that broke the news to me: “Dude, holy s***, we got Bin Laden”, it read.

As for Twitter, a powerful platform in its own right, the mess of lower-case numbers and letters along with copious hastags makes for a dizzying experience for some.

Facebook is trying to perfect an up-to-the-minute mobile news delivery system, and the launch of Paper is a good first step. Who knows, maybe in another 10 years Facebook will have evolved into primarily a news service. Stranger things have happened.

And maybe by then today’s teenagers will have started using the site more, staying in touch with far-flung high school and college friends and posting pictures of their kids to make their parents happy.

The road for Facebook is unclear. All we can be certain of is that the company will continue fighting to keep people engaged with Facebook one way or another.