Breaking Out of Facebook’s Walled Garden

First published February 7, 2013 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

According to PEW, 27% of us are looking to wean ourselves off the Facebook habit.

This is not particularly surprising. While Facebook can be incredibly distracting, it’s not really relevant to our lives. It has never been woven into the fabric of our day-to-day activities. It’s more like an awkward, albeit entertaining, interlude jammed into the long list of stuff we have to do today. That list represents our life. Facebook represents the stuff that lies on the periphery.

Here’s one way to think about it. What if Facebook went down today? Would it really matter? Sure, it might be a disappointment, but would it make us substantially change our plans?

Now consider if Google went down for the day. How many times in a day would you got to use it, then curse because it wasn’t there?

The problem is that our online social interactions are outgrowing the walled garden that is Facebook. It has failed to become essential in the way that Google has. I can go entire months without logging into my Facebook account. I have trouble going an hour without using Google. And when I need Google, I need it now.

Again, I turn to how we use language as a clue as to how we feel about things. To “search” is a verb. It’s an action that connects intents with outcomes. It’s something we have to do. And, if you’re loyal to Google as your search engine, it’s pretty easy to swap “googling” for “searching” and for everyone to know exactly what you mean.

But what, I ask, is social? It’s not a verb. It’s not even a noun. It’s an adjective, to describe someone or something.  If I told you I “Facebooked” someone, you probably wouldn’t know what I meant. And that’s an important distinction. “Social” is tied to who we are. It isn’t tied to any single destination. Social travels with us.

When Facebook came on the scene, it did do a good job of showing us how online could be used to keep better track of our extended social networks. But now there are other ways to do that. An informal poll by Macquarie Securites also found that Instagrams are a quickly growing way to connect, especially among Facebook’s core market of 18- to 25-year-olds.

Facebook can’t own social in the same way Google can own search. We own social, because we are social. And we will use multiple tools to allow us to be social.

Facebook envisioned a social ecosystem that could then be monetized with targeted advertising. But as the PEW study points out, Facebook just couldn’t contain all our social activity. Many of us are thinking that we should probably spend less time on Facebook, as we find other ways to connect online. While Facebook has never been essential, it now also risks becoming irrelevant.

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