Home As The Sun Sets on MySpace – Who Will Beat Facebook?

As The Sun Sets on MySpace – Who Will Beat Facebook?

The year was 2013. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg was still the social network’s public persona, but he had a young family and new-found loves of world travel, exotic regional cocktails and faux-native art. Facebook had become overgrown with spammy apps and awkwardly targeted advertisements. The company quietly gave Zuckerberg a huge salary to pursue those other interests and leave product development and the business in the hands of other people. There was no denying it – Facebook was on the decline as Social Network XYZ rose to global social networking supremacy.

But what in this future scenario will Social Network XYZ be? As the sands of time wash MySpace into obscurity, with a wave of hundreds of employees being let go this week for example, now seems like a good time to think about what comes next. What could kill Facebook, the MySpace killer? We’ve identified four possible scenarios – which do you think is most likely? Most desirable?

After these four scenarios, we’ve got a poll asking readers what you’d most like to see come next.

Scenario 1: Incremental Change

In some ways, Facebook was just a series of incremental changes away from what MySpace offered. The same core functionality of messaging, media storage and personal expression is consistent across both sites – Facebook just purports to be classier, it’s more about school friends than music and it came along at a time when being online was more universal than it was in the days of MySpace’s rule. Perhaps another social network will challenge Facebook simply by making small changes in response to the most annoying things about Facebook. Perhaps they will more effectively deal with app spam and they will make preservation of privacy easier. It’s about to get a whole lot harder at Facebook, if you believe Michael Arrington’s report that Facebook status messages will soon be publicly visible by default. Facebook’s privacy settings are already so labyrinthine that company watch-dog blogger Nick O’Neill’s post on changing the settings has been viewed by millions of people and he’s now selling a book on the topic.

Perhaps a challenger will make incremental changes to these kinds of policies and steal Facebook’s thunder.

Scenario 2: A Smarter Technology

Facebook’s technology is very smart already, but it could be a whole lot smarter. The future of social networking may come in the form of more sophisticated recommendations. If you liked this video that your friend just shared, then you might also like these other videos, these groups and these public figures to follow.

The Facebook news feed keeps users engaged by following the progress of their friends’ lives – but most peoples’ friends have pretty boring lives. The flow of information we get from our social networks could be spiced up a whole lot with smarter recommendation systems.

Unfortunately Facebook is moving away from the kind of rich user profiles and connections that sophisticated recommendations are built on. The company is removing geographic regional networks and no longer prompts users to note how they met the people they connect with on Facebook. (Its executives also speak to their users like children, in big vague terms like “we help you Connect.”)

The future crown of social networking could be stolen by a system that offers users powerful features, options and recommendations. Think of how television is moving towards increased complexity of features and imagine social networking going that way as well.

Scenario 3: Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is one of those new buzz words that is going to get old fast, but the user experience is not. Social networking as a layer on top of real world experiences has a lot of potential to capture peoples’ imaginations. Systems like Loopt and FourSquare are already catching on.

Why would I want to leave my network at home on my desktop when I could bring it with me and detect a residue of restaurant reviews written by my friends, wherever I go around town. Is this place I’m in just a fountain in the park, or can I click a button on my phone and see pictures of my friends smiling there in the past, read a short history of when it was built and leave messages for friends who come there in the future? On second thought, if you thought information overload was an issue today, an augmented future like that could drive us all even more insane.

Scenario 4: Distributed Social Networking

Imagine being an AT&T customer and being unable to call T-Mobile customers on your phone. Imagine being afraid to leave your phone provider because you’d lose your friends’ numbers you’d stored and the photos you’d taken. (Heck, imagine having a great phone but being unable to use it on another network! But that’s another story…)

That’s where we’re at with social networking today. They are essentially “walled gardens” little different from the old AOL days.

Talking Social Network Interop @ GSP East from Brian Oberkirch on Vimeo.

There are people working to change that. Check out the

DiSo (Distributed Social Networking) Project.

Check out the writing of

Marc Canter

, a man on a quest against user lock-in.

The next step after Facebook may be no social network in particular at all – it may be social networking as a protocol. A set of standards that let you message, share with and travel to any social network you choose. Suddenly all the social networks have to improve because they are competing on quality of service, over customers that have free will and are able to leave at any time. Someone might even build an interoperable social networking service so compelling that you’d be willing to pay for it, instead of being served up ads.

This is probably the most radical vision, the riskiest when it comes to making money, and so the least likely to happen. But it sure does sound interesting.

What do you think the future of social networking is going to look like? Facebook can’t rule the world forever. No one can. The marketplace and the internet are all about churn, innovation and cycles. Just like MySpace has fallen from the top, someday Facebook will too. What do you want to see come next?

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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