The staggering rate of growth of the Internet in the past 10 years was recently highlighted in a much-shared infographic by bestedsites.com showing how much has changed, and pointing to winners (Facebook, Netflix, IE, Microsoft) and losers (Friendster, Blockbuster, Chrome/Firefox, Apple). Around 33% of the world population of 7 billion is now connected to the internet and with equally impressive growth of the time spent online to an average of 4 hours a day.
Brian Solis of Altimeter Group added to the discussion by just taking a pause to realise how much of the growth has been captured (some would say driven in part) by Facebook. Even deducting Facebook’s self-reported 8.7% “bogus” accounts, 38% of all of those online worldwide are active on Facebook. In 2011, Facebook was the size of the entire internet in 2004.
People, Solis writes, have shifted their consumption and habits on the internet as a result of the rise of social. The connected consumer, while not shunning “destination sites” per se, now see them as a seamless part of their self-constructed internet – “the egosystem” – where information flows are disrupted:
Looking at Facebook as a subset of this particular infographic would provide a visual comparison of the static and social web. I once wrote that to the connected consumer, the end of the destination web was upon us. The flow of information has been disrupted. While websites aren’t dead they certainly don’t meet the needs and expectations of a much more real-time audience who live in their egosystem and benefit from news and information finding them. We live in an era where news no longer breaks, it Tweets.
Brands haven’t yet come to fully appreciate the continuing evolution where everything is sharable and if it isn’t it won’t reach the same amount of people.
We would go a step further in arguing that as the habits of connected consumers have changed in the broader internet, they have also changed when we think of Facebook itself. Brands for several years thought about Facebook Pages as merely another version of their website or campaign microsite. “Conversation” was the back and forth on a Page amongst fans: a slightly less moderated version of putting comments on websites. “Sharing” meant in many cases simply putting extra “Share” buttons across an app on Facebook.
The way we see things developing, consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea that the sharing that drives conversations has to come from them and they shouldn’t have to work very hard to share. Most conversations about content on Facebook won’t happen on a brand page, where 98% of people who Like a page will never return. And as the Condescending Corporate Brand Page meme shows, consumers are increasingly cynical about brands trying to pose as friends in those conversations. The real action happens in the streams of Newsfeed and Ticker where people discover stuff that’s interesting to them shared by friends. We’re partial, of course, but we think that’s what Facebook apps that take advantage of Open Graph offer – a chance for brands to play a real role in authentic conversations between consumers.
While some still are less comfortable sharing their Spotify listens, news reading or Netflix viewing automatically – and developers need to respond to those concerns by being upfront and explicit about sharing – we think that what today is seen as strange to some will become normal. As people once wondered why on earth anyone would use Facebook or send 140 characters about what they had for lunch.
When brands help consumers share something that their friends see as really valuable, that’s where things happen. And to answer the question from bestedsites.com about whether Facebook will suffer the same fate as Friendster, the fact that Facebook is putting so much time, effort and development into this world of constant sharing powered by apps makes us believe that Facebook is here to stay. In 10 years, we’ll know for sure.