Facebook's problem: Market share?

By Sharon Machlis

Facebook's chief advantage over rival social networks like Google Plus is supposed to be its large number of users. But today I'm not so sure. After seeing a stream of complaints about Facebook's latest interface tweaks, I'm wondering if Facebook's big asset may also be working against it.

Sure it's great to have massive market share. But it can also be a lot tougher to innovate when you've been a long-time leader and your market starts to change.

Conventional wisdom says that Google+ will have problems making inroads in social media because of Facebook's enormous user base. But what if the experts have that backwards? What if the social media space is going through a significant upheaval -- one, say, near to the move from mainframes to desktops or PCs to mobile? Which network would be better poised to offer next-generation offerings: one that was recently built from the ground up with tech-savvy early adopters in mind? Or one that has years of unchallenged market dominance combined with legacy software code and users who aren't always receptive to change?

It's not necessarily a zero-sum game, since Google+ may be different enough from Facebook that both could survive social-media fatigue and flourish. However, the stepped-up pace of new Facebook features looks like the service doesn't want to risk falling behind in its offerings.

It may be coincidence that Facebook unveiled yet another "improvement" to its users' news feeds just as Google+ opened up to the general public, but the timing is certainly interesting.

So were user reactions. While many Google Plus users were hailing this week's latest round of features, such as search (at long last) and screensharing, Facebook users I know weren't quite as pleased this morning to see that "most important" posts had appeared atop their latest news listings.

Some journalists and analysts I follow debated the merits of Facebook's new default look, but my personal contacts -- tech-savvy IT pro friends as well as non-power users -- were unanimous in disliking Yet Another Change to their Facebook streams.

"If you're as ticked off as me this morning about this new News Feed format, create a post, set its visibility to public, and tell everyone how you feel. This format [stinks]," wrote one friend who's an IT guy. "Dear Facebook kindly change the layout of my Wall every day, it is awful when it remains the same for 3 days," posted another.

A non-IT friend put it simpler: ""Stop!!!!! All these changes are driving me nuts!!!!"

Are these just users who dislike change to a site they're used to and, while grumbling, won't actually leave? Maybe. But it's worth watching how Facebook manages the challenge of keeping pace as its market evolves.

Skeptical? Consider BlackBerry. RIM was long the top smartphone platform, nearly synonymous with phones that handle data as well as calls and texts. But you don't hear much about CrackBerries these days. Once other companies jumped in -- vendors that had more products and resources than RIM -- BlackBerry's market position dwindled. The platform that took over its top spot? Android. From Google.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter  @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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