For some time now, I’ve thought that having parents as ‘friends’ on social networks was a recipe for trouble. This has been reinforced recently as I’ve spoken to several friends and acquaintances that have shared similar stories to my own (unsolicited, I might add). It goes something like this: “Now that my mom is on Facebook, I have to watch what I say in my status updates and monitor my wall more carefully for friends posting things I wouldn’t want her to see.” I have found myself second-guessing what I post in my status updates now that my mom, aunt, family friends, etc. have joined Facebook and friended me. I remember how awkward it felt when I got the friend request from mom – I debated whether to accept it or ignore it? My cousins were friends with my mom – did that mean I was obligated to accept? For the record, I’m friends with my mom in real life, so this isn’t some generational rebellion story. However, I still have the mentality that there are certain things that I just don’t feel like sharing in detail with my parents. Isn’t this typical for most people? Aren’t some things best kept between friends?
What does this mean for Facebook? I believe it opens the door even wider for another network/social application to sprout up and lure the ‘younger crowd’ away. Forget about my generation (GenX), the younger Millennials are ripe for the picking, right now. They flocked to Facebook early on and there was a sense that it was ‘their place’ – as opposed to MySpace that had become the ‘older crowd.’ Interestingly, now MySpace is seen in some circles as the ‘young crowd’ again. So what happens next? Will the rapid expansion of users on Facebook be its undoing? Perhaps in the U.S., but it’s more likely that the demographics will just shift and the site will continue to thrive. Lest we forget, Friendster was ‘dead’ in the U.S. long ago, yet continued to have explosive growth in Asia for years after the U.S. users moved on. Maybe a more plausible scenario is that Facebook continues to infiltrate into the mainstream, while other niche networks pop up and chip off segments of their user base.
I’ll even go so far as to suggest that MySpace could reinvent itself and peel off some of the users that have migrated to Facebook over the last couple of years, or at the least become the network of choice for Millennials once again. MySpace has killer entertainment content (Music, Video, Games, etc) – much better and more robust than Facebook, which is appealing to a younger audience. I think it’s entirely possible for MySpace to right the ship, so to speak. It would require a significant overhaul to clean up its image as a porn spam infested online playground, but stranger things have happened. Highly unlikely, but possible.
Mobile access will clearly be a defining factor for the ‘next Facebook.’ Perhaps the next mass migration will be to a mobile-only network or at least one that is designed primarily for mobile devices. Sharing quick snippets of text, video and pictures will continue to be key drivers of interest in these applications, and perhaps simplicity will be key to the success for ‘the next big thing.’ I recently installed foursquare on my iPhone, and I can see potential in this kind of application for people to stay in touch with each other and share info about what they are up to. I can say with almost 100% certainty that my parents won’t be on foursquare at any time in the foreseeable future. There’s something comforting in that for me.
I’m curious to hear other thoughts on what parents on Facebook means to you. Do you think it will push the younger crowd away? There are some signs this is already happening, but how far might it go? Whatever your personal preference, it’s definitely something we should all keep an eye out for.