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Facebook: The beginning of the end?

Posted by: Helen Walters on October 9, 2007

Remember how a year or so ago, all those advertisers jumped on the ‘user generated content’ bandwagon and, regularly, got their fingers burned.

Once Facebook opened up, it was only a matter of time before those same advertisers began to turn their attention to the network and see if it could form communities among like-minded brand afficionados. Some have created apps; some have created groups.

BW cars reporter, Stuart Schwartzapfel, points me to an example of the latter, from Mazda, which has formed the Mazda Design Challenge group. It calls for Facebook users to submit visions of the Mazda3 of the future (NB: you have to be a Facebook member to access the page.)

Here's the deal: ten semifinalists will be picked by Mazda judges; those entries will be honed by an inhouse designer and then will be showcased on Facebook, with other users getting to vote for their favorite. The winner gets $1,000, a trip to the LA Auto show -- and the transformation of their idea into concept model, also to be displayed by Mazda at the show. So far, the group has 1,800 members.

There are a few interesting things to note here. Firstly, Mazda is smart to be clear about the set up of the competition. As long as it follows through and delivers on its promises, this could be a great feel-good marketing/branding exercise.

Secondly, is this the beginning of the end for Facebook? Now that the advertisers are in there, and now that there's seemingly no security or privacy any more, what's so cool or community spirited about the network any more?

It was interesting to observe the evolution of our intern in this respect. Maha was a huge fan of Facebook when she arrived at BusinessWeek earlier this summer, even being so kind as to give me a demonstration and a run-through, excitedly showing me all these great things I should be doing. She wrote a number of pieces analyzing Facebook and its business model too -- including one we haven't published yet, about how she's totally over Facebook.

Call her fickle youth if you will, but she's smart, tuned in, and entirely representative of Facebook's core support. She's back at Brown now, and reports that Facebook's popularity is definitely down: "There's definitely more emailing and phone-calling going on among college students than there was in the Facebook heydey," she writes. "My prediction is that it crashes and burns by 2012, when technology will probably have changed enough to produce something newer and hipper."

Reader Comments


October 10, 2007 9:57 AM

Maya, who isn't encumbered by business expertise, recently granted me a fascinating interview as well.
"Yeah, I was like, totally at the gas station today," Maya writes. "And prices were, uh, so high! So anyway, I'm predicting oil is totally on its last legs"

Helen Walters

October 10, 2007 10:59 AM

It's Maha, not Maya.


October 10, 2007 1:30 PM

I don't think social networking sites just go down all of a sudden.
Afterall one's facebook/myspace/orkut profile is one's online indentity. People tend to bond with such portals. Is there any other reason for putting up mobile versions of these sites other than because people are so addicted to them?
It's easier to keep in touch with all the trends and all the friends.....
These sites are self growing because people come up with fun ways to interact-talk about Orkut beauty contests.....
Though of course networking sites need to bring up ways to keep people safe. I think it's pretty much the only reason why facebook got the lead from myspace but then again nothing's perfect.

Matt Mendolera

October 11, 2007 12:46 PM

I'm still a fan, but I agree that my friends and I have slowed down the degree to which we check, update and obsess over Facebook. But I don't think it's necessarily because it opened up to companies and new demographics--I would put the blame on applications, which are the equivalent of spam in most cases. Every time I log in, I'm getting requests for someone who sent me a virtual beer, a vampire bite or a song dedication. Facebook is about networking--keeping in touch and meeting new people. If I want to grab a drink and listen to a cool song, I'll meet my friend at the bar, not on his page. And as for the vampires? Well, the people who created those applications are the same who still spend their days trolling Second Life.

Maha Atal

October 11, 2007 5:42 PM

I might as well jump in here and clarify my views.

I'd agree with Matt, that the applications are the real villains, but the applications ARE advertising. That's the crux of the new Facebook business model: they're convincing companies that running an application is a way to advertise to Facebook users, which is why big brands like the Washington Post,eBay and Walmart are making apps.

And what's eroding my sense of community, my chance to "keep in touch and meet new people" as Matt says, is the fact that every application I load gives strangers at the companies who develop the app access to my social life.

Shape Cheney

October 18, 2007 11:14 AM

Online social experiments are just beginning. The younger kids take the center
stage now since they have an advantage. The generation are mostly IT savvy and
spends a lot more online.

There are several interesting ones to watch for other demographics, for example - a site devoted to corporate Dilberts which could change the workplace dramatically.

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