Jim Macnamara: Will the next 10 years be a friend to Facebook?

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Facebook turns ten this month. Photo / AP
Facebook turns ten this month. Photo / AP

Facebook turns 10 this month, but so what? Google celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. MySpace is already 11, Flickr, Digg and Wikinews will also turn 10 this year. Renren, dubbed the Facebook of China, is not far behind, established in 2005 by Stanford Business School and MIT graduate Joseph Chen.

What Facebook's achieved in 10 years has propelled it past most media rivals and demands attention and respect. Zuckerberg's creation passed the milestone of one billion active users in October 2012, becoming the largest social network in the world and one of the most patronised sites in history.

Facebooked has become a verb in the English language. At a practical level, major political parties and politicians including US presidents and leaders such as Kevin Rudd have begun using Facebook as a major electioneering platform. Corporations routinely establish Facebook pages in the same way they published corporate brochures a decade ago.

Most significantly, Facebook has sent a message to the traditional mass media and journalism, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals, as well as corporate management.

Media are no longer one-way, top-down, elite controlled communication spaces. They are sites for two-way, interactive communication open to anyone with an internet connection.

While recognising that a "digital divide" still exists (for instance, among low socio-economic groups and remote indigenous communities), Facebook affords voice equally to "citizen journalists", activists, critics, marginalised voices, shy teenagers and work-at-home mums, as much as it does to powerful governments and corporations.

But it is not all plain sailing for social media and networks - and it will be even less so during the next decade for market leaders like Facebook.

Facebook no longer has the appeal of novelty. It is no longer a darling of the IPO market. It is no longer a hangout for young people. Thirty-somethings, forty-somethings and even grandparents are posting and "liking" and "lurking".

Facebook is now part of the establishment - more than that, it is a global market giant. The drive for continuing growth to satisfy shareholders and to monetise traffic and transactions will increasingly force Facebook to exploit its market position, content on its site, and even its users (for cross-marketing other services and products).

One the eve of its 10th birthday, Facebook announced the first of a number of new "apps" being developed by its Creative Labs Unit - a news reader that allows users to read and share stories called Paper. But the co-founder and chief executive of FiftyThree, Georg Petschnigg, pointed out in his blog that his company started a successful application with the same name in 2012.

Facebook now faces the challenges of being a market leader, required to balance the commercial demands of its shareholders and the expectations of watchful anti-trust legislators, consumer groups, and one billion internet users who could cause its downfall as quickly as they created its success.

Jim Macnamara is professor of public communication at the University of Technology, Sydney

- The Conversation

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