Facebook is seemingly headed towards total Internet dominance. Recently, Facebook has even benefitted from the recent disasters in Japan. The dominant social network in Japan, Mixi, has lost market share as users looking for broader, more international, information on the earthquake and nuclear emergency reach out to the 600M people on Facebook. In Brasil, the intractable Orkut is also losing audience to Facebook as Facebook’s style of gaming, sharing links and collecting friends become default online activities.
Yet I believe no one platform can ever win 100% of the market, there will always be a market for new digital products. I believe this for three reasons and I post them here for your opinion.
The market is expanding beyond the ability of one platform to create unity because a uniform market would be forced to contend with distinct cultural factors. While Facebook might be a platform it has struggled to gain share in Japan because the audience generally prefers the privacy controls and advanced mobile apps offered by Mixi.
As a product launches new features that product is actually becoming more specific and thereby more branded. A product platform with few features has little need for specific branding but new features must be added to address audience requests. The openness of the platform begins to be replaced by a point of view. This point of view is defined by the audience and through the product meaning that the audience brands the application through defining its core functionality. By the act of gaining definition, its audience begins to understand it better and thereby compare and contrast it with existing, or potential, products. This also means that future audience should begin to demand their own platforms through which to define themselves.
It is a cultural requirement, at least in the US, that we have something to rebel against in some way. Our culture defines itself as much by what we choose as by what we don’t choose. This generates a demand for options which, in turn, creates new products.
These three factors make sense to me. But, I don’t see it happening. I see more and more people using Facebook than have ever used any platform before it. (I define “platform” as an application that can be used by its users for their own expression. In comparison, Google is a service.) It’s the AOL of the 21st century but whose business isn’t based on connectivity but social dynamics.
In order for Facebook to lose market share to a new competitor it would require a shift in how we socialize. This shift would have to be anachronistic to Facebook’s core functionality. So while I believe that 100% dominance isn’t reasonable, I lack the insights to tell you how Facebook might fail to get damn close. (keeping mind that 100% dominance is roughly 2B people.)