There will be a next Facebook. We’re not predicting its eminent demise, but history has proven that even the most dominant players eventually fall. Just ask the British or Mongol Empires, which at one time ruled 20% and 25%, respectively, of the world’s population. Our present day social media juggernaut, Facebook, is getting close to these numbers with 15% of the world’s population on its platform.
The chink in the armor is Facebook’s missteps with mobile. This leaves the biggest opening for a new, mobile-focused company to come along and begin to steal market share. Leave the desktop behind and only design for the phone. The desktop should not be viewed as the engagement point, but rather as a simple view into your friends’ and families’ activities.
The numbers on smartphone penetration are staggering. According to Flurry Analytics , as of July 2012, 78% of 15 to 64 year olds in the U.S. now have a smartphone device. So smartphones are nearly ubiquitous and with people now spending 94 minutes  per day on mobile applications as opposed to just 72 minutes  spent online through a desktop or mobile browser, the device is now the primary connection.
Of course, the usage of social media on mobile is not something new but, for the first time in three years, social has pulled even with gaming in the amount of time people spend with applications, and pulled even by having a 60% increase year-over-year. Again, not surprising as more than half of Facebook users access the site through their mobile device and 20% use it as the sole engagement point.
This is why Facebook has us all continually scratching our heads over why it hasn’t been more proactive in having the best mobile experience. It seems Facebook has finally woken up and this may be attributed to the fact that Wall Street seems to be penalizing it for its weak mobile roadmap. Although, to be fair, investors are more worried over the lack of monetization on the mobile platform.
So, can platforms like Path, which are focused around mobile, continue to gain traction or will they simply be large acquisition targets for the likes of Google and Facebook? Neither company is afraid to purchase in areas in which they are perceived to be weak. In the last 12 months, Facebook purchased both Gowalla and Instagram.
Gowalla was purchased for its “technology teams” to try and build out Places, which quietly turned into status updates. Instagram, on the other hand, is being left alone for the time being to operate independently. It will be interesting to see, if a great mobile social network does come along, whether it can gain in popularity fast enough to hold off a purchase from either of these companies.
Another interesting area for mobile social networks is the built-in operating systems on the devices. Apple, Android and Windows Mobile have all leveraged APIs from the major social networks in different ways to make pushing social content a simple, smooth experience. In fact, it is so integrated that in some cases it removes the need to even go directly to the social media destinations. This begs the question whether, if a new platform came along that had such interesting hooks for operating system developers to play with and incorporate, could that platform steal market share by simply being integrated holistically into smartphone experiences?
Although currently there is not a clear David to supplant the Facebook Goliath, the key may lie within the mobile experience. However, as for the near future, it’s doubtful that Google or Facebook will allow any new platform to gain widespread traction without overpaying to try and gain or keep market share.
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September 21, 2012