Eric Jackson, financial analyst and founder of Ironfire Capital, caused a bit of a stir yesterday when he told CNBC he thought Facebook would disappear in 5 to 8 years. Not completely disappear, mind you, but “disappear in the way that Yahoo has disappeared.” Yahoo is still around, but it’s fallen so far from its heyday that “for all intents and purposes, it’s disappeared.”
It’s interesting that since Facebook has gone public, those pontificating about its future aren’t tech nerds and Silicon Valley insiders up on the newest and hippest apps, but Wall Street analysts looking at the cold, hard numbers. Could he be right?
Jackson makes a fairly compelling argument based on history and where he sees future revenue going on the Internet. But I also think it’s possible he’s missed a major law of technology that makes a Facebook disappearance by 2020 unlikely.
Jackson argues that Facebook is “the second of three generations of modern Internet companies.” Mashable summarizes: “The first generation, highlighted by businesses such as Google and Yahoo, served as portals that organized and aggregated the web’s wealth of information. The second generation, most notably Facebook, capitalized on an emerging social web. The third generation is made up of companies whose sole goal is leveraging and monetizing mobile users.”
He’s right that Facebook has struggled with its mobile app. It’s the source of constant complaints for users, and no doubt played into the company’s $1 billion Instagram purchase, a well-designed and palatable mobile experience. But whether this just poses a tech problem to be fixed with a redesign or whether Facebook will struggle for years with mobile like Google has struggled with social is anyone’s guess.
More to the point, something separates Facebook from Yahoo and even Google: it’s social by nature. Facebook benefits from what is known as a network effect. Like the telephone, it becomes more valuable the more people who are connected to it. If you’re the only guy in the world with a phone it does you no good, but once everyone has a phone it becomes pretty handy.
Facebook users aren’t so much glued to Facebook as they are glued to each other via Facebook. And as Kevin Kelly notes in his insanely smart book “What Technology Wants,” once technology achieves a certain critical mass, it tends to get “locked in.” You get this many people locked in to a network effect, and it gets way harder to get them to move someplace else than, say, starting to use a new search engine (Google) and abandoning an old one (Yahoo).
I’m convinced a big part of the hysteria around the fate of Facebook’s IPO is that Facebook isn’t just another company—it represents our social lives. It’s part of the fabric of how we keep in touch with our family and friends. A downfall for the company would be way more personally impactful than almost any other I can think of—at least psychically.
Which is why I think it’s highly unlikely that it’ll be going anywhere anytime soon. As for speculating on its earnings reports, I’ll leave that to the Eric Jacksons of the world. But something tells me that when you got a billion-plus active users and an ever-expanding global population tied together more and more by the web all the time, you’ll probably be able to figure out how to make a few bucks off it.