Is Facebook the new AOL?

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Remember back to the mid-90’s when AOL was King of the Internet? In fact, many people thought AOL was the Internet. AOL had it all. They did a great job of aggregating content so that everything you ever wanted was all in one place. They centralized communication so that you could quickly and easily email, chat and interact with all of your friends and buddies. You could meet new people. There was a profile page, simple sharing and online gaming too. Toward the end, the term they used to describe AOL was “walled garden” because the experience was controlled by a single service provider.

This should look familiar because just as computing is centralizing all over again, decades after the decline of the mainframe, the Internet experience is now following suit with the explosive growth of Facebook. In fact, according to Nielsen, Facebook is where people spend most all their Internet time, more than Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia and YouTube combined!

So does this mean that Facebook is destined to decline and eventually become irrelevant, like AOL? My answer is yes because the two companies are following eerily similar paths, bubbles always pop and …it’s the cyclical nature of things.

The walled garden can only contain life for so long. Soon the vines will begin to grow out of control and they will scale the garden walls in search of greater space and more fertile application development soil capable of growing better Internet experiences. The current rate of over planting will simply cause Facebook to choke itself to death.

If we learned anything from Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, it was that life cannot be contained and that it will indeed find a way to break out and start fresh again. We have the tendency to consolidate power and grow more powerful, but out of monarchy comes the republic and out of Facebook will come another Internet revolution that is bursting with the freedom of new experiences, which is exactly what happened in the wake of AOL.

But what will those experiences be and what will it take to start the process of people leaving Facebook for greener pastures? I invite you to comment on it below.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Eric, great observations. It’s easy to assume the 800 pound gorilla will remain so. But time marches on, otherwise GM would still be the biggest carmaker in the world!

    Personally, I think Facebook will have quite a few years of dominance ahead, assuming no major blunders. Dominance always carries with it the risks of arrogance and resistance to change, giving an opening to new innnovations.

    If I had to predict a successor, it will be a service where the users truly own their own content, instead of sharing it within a walled garden like Facebook or LinkedIn. This is part of the “VRM” vision that Doc Searls has been talking about. http://bit.ly/VEGZ

    “The primary theory behind ProjectVRM is that many market problems (including the widespread belief that customer lock-in is a ‘best practice’) can only be solved from the customer side: by making the customer a fully-empowered actor in the marketplace, rather than one whose power in many cases is dependent on exclusive relationships with vendors, by coerced agreement provided entirely by those vendors.”

  2. Everything declines and eventually disappears – in the most optimistic scenario, Facebook will know how to re-invent itself.

    But before them, i really think that Google will face the very same problem.

  3. Bob, I’m a believer in the move toward VRM. Consumers already have the tools to take more control, but they just haven’t organized and formalized it all yet. I believe that people, with so much information at their fingertips, will naturally want to use it to guide and control how companies interact with THEM as opposed to the other way around. It’s a consumer movement to be on the lookout for…

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