Happy birthday Facebook. Your next decade will be trickier

Summary:Facebook's next decade will be more interesting to watch as it moves toward those awkward adolescent years. Here's a look at the key challenges.

Facebook is celebrating its 10th anniversary and the accomplishments are impressive. Facebook created the social networking boom, reached 1 billion users, scaled its infrastructure and revamped communications.

zuckerberg
What's next Mark?

And in the last year or so Facebook has navigated mobile, grown its advertising base at a rapid clip and collected more data on people than probably any other enterprise in the history of the world. These advances are showing up in Facebook's financial results.

Simply put, Facebook looks like a real company today with the potential to be a profit machine. That outcome wasn't a slam dunk when Facebook launched its initial public offering.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post:

While some doubted that connecting the world was actually important, we were building. While others doubted that this would be sustainable, you were forming lasting connections.

We just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else. And we still do today.

That's why I'm even more excited about the next ten years than the last. The first ten years were about bootstrapping this network. Now we have the resources to help people across the world solve even bigger and more important problems.

Zuckerberg has big plans for new ways of sharing and communicating. Facebook will build more tools---and then monetize them.

I'm not going to doubt Zuckerberg or Facebook, but I can't shake this AOL feeling. AOL was a juggernaut. AOL was the Internet for many people. AOL rewired communication with chat rooms. Like Facebook, AOL landed in divorce filings. Like Facebook, AOL was the center of a movie. AOL flamed out.

Facebook may not flame out, but its next 10 years are going to be more challenging. Caring enough probably won't cut it. Among the challenges:

  • Can Facebook keep its cool? Facebook is losing the younger demographic to some degree, but can navigate the changes well because it has emerging markets. In five years will Facebook be a must-have social network for teens when decidedly uncool parents are all over it? Like a TV network, Facebook will need to hit those younger demos.

  • Will monetization lead to customer angst? Facebook's biggest sign of maturity was revealed when the company launched tests of video advertising. That move featured a good compromise that didn't annoy customers. At some point though, Facebook is going to face slowing growth and push the ad envelope.

  • Can Facebook push the mobile envelope? Is there a role for Facebook embedded? How about Facebook powering a wearable? Today, Facebook has created one-off apps like Paper and Messenger that are powerful. Facebook needs to ultimately leap frog on mobile and push something new with its scale.

  • Privacy. Facebook knows everything about you. It's quite possible that a significant number of people will care at some point.

  • Can Facebook acquire its competition forever? Facebook bought Instagram, ConnectU and FriendFeed. Instagram may have been the biggest threat, but large players often buy smaller competitors for features or defense. At some point, a smaller player sneaks up on you. Today, Twitter could be that company. In 10 years, there will be some new competitor no one saw coming.

  • Can Facebook nail search? People search could be powerful and Facebook in theory could top Google's secret sauce. However, Facebook's search efforts are nascent. In the next 10 years, Facebook will have to hone and deliver on its search promise.

  • Will Facebook keep caring? Perhaps Facebook's biggest challenge will be keeping the DNA that got it this far. Companies grow, they become unwieldy, and become silo-ed. Even a company like Google starts to look like a big silo factory. The fact that Google's cloud business and enterprise unit aren't more closely tied together highlights the issue. 

Related stories:

Topics: Social Enterprise, Enterprise Software

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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