Facebook has dominated the headlines in the past week due to its bold $16 billion acquisition of WhatsApp. This news buried another conversation that had previously been getting a moderate amount of attention: Some were beginning to question whether Facebook has a place in the world 10 or 20 years from now -- or even fewer, as a post titled "Facebook will disappear in the next 5 years" indicates.
One of the early instigators of the conversation, back in April 2012, was Geoffrey James of Inc. magazine, who made the basic and pretty unfounded argument that Facebook is no longer "cool," whatever the term may mean to you. Further, James claimed that Facebook is "a company trying to be all things to all people." Setting aside that Facebook's user base is, in fact, growing, and that it is the largest social media site in the world, this seems to be a very superficial analysis of Facebook's strategy.
Facebook isn't trying to do everything -- it is constantly experimenting by doing. The social media giant recently launched a division called Creative Labs, solely dedicated to building new ways of being social online. This new venture produced Paper, an app that integrates Facebook with the information graph by making it part of a wider stream fed by news outlets and blogs. This is just one of many signs of Facebook's commitment to continuously building and experimenting with new features and apps. Facebook makes $2.6 billion per quarter. It seems only logical that, like Google and Apple, a large part of this cash goes back into developing its core product, as well as exploring new avenues for growth in the world of social.
James goes as far as to say that Facebook's buying Instagram "smacks of desperation." I understand the need to dish out solid punch lines, but a 10-year-old company making more than $10 billion a year is not desperate, it's 10 steps ahead.
An unlikely influencer, 13-year-old Ruby Karp from New York, reignited the conversation in August 2013. She eloquently explained her and her peers' dislike of Facebook, explaining that "teens are followers" and voicing the same privacy concerns that many other Facebook users have: "If my mom saw I was at a party with drinking, even if I wasn't participating, I'd be dead."
Although I agree with everything Ruby says, we must remember that Facebook wasn't created for 13-year-olds. Ruby is not the core Facebook consumer. Facebook was created with college kids in mind, who have a completely different social structure than 13-year-olds, one that is more suitable to the site. Think Greek life and club sports. How many Rubys need to organize a party? Thirteen-year-olds aren't trying to get tactical about their social networking.
Facebook was able to win over college students when it had no money and was called Thefacebook (yes, all one word). I am confident it will keep doing so in the future.
Following Ruby's op-ed, Adam Wexler, on the Huffington Post, wrote about "Why Twitter and LinkedIn will outlast Facebook," calling out a specific line of Ruby's piece: "Facebook was just this thing all our parents seemed to have." True, the Facebook population is aging, as a natural result of early adopters getting older. However, while at 13 everyone above 18 feels like an alien, once you've reached college, that barrier to entry is far less relevant. Furthermore, a 20-year-old is more likely to be able to navigate the, I will admit, annoyingly nuanced privacy settings on Facebook and make sure Mom is not privy to incriminating content.
Facebook is here to stay, and here is why: It is a great platform for anyone 18 and older to stay in contact with peers, near and far, and build and manage friend groups. Facebook isn't out to win you over when you are 13.
Further, it has an enormous amount of cash to spend on R & D, meaning that no one, probably not even founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has any idea where Facebook is going to be in 10 years. This is the core power of its founder. Zuckerberg is both a visionary and a maker, and that combo is unbeatable
Follow Giuseppe Crosti on Twitter: www.twitter.com/giuseppecrosti