Can Facebook ever be toppled? This is a question that began running through my head when I saw that nearly half of the people surveyed in a recent poll believe Facebook will fade away as new platforms come along. It wasn’t long before I began wondering what those new platforms might look like. I’m actually one of those crazy people who aren’t on Facebook, so I could honestly care less if it did fade away, but, with a base of nearly 1 billion users, you’d think Facebook’s share of the social networking market must look pretty attractive to someone out there besides Google… To find out who that someone might be, I began a week-long quest that revealed the various soft spots in Facebook’s considerable underbelly and also led me to connect with 8 very cool, very smart social startups that could help lead the way in a social networking revolution given the right circumstances.
Searching for Facebook’s Achilles’ Heel
Before my quest even began I realized that it was ludicrous to think that Facebook would somehow sink into oblivion anytime soon. I also realized that Facebook doesn’t have to cease to exist in order for other players to survive, or even thrive. But, could a competitor ever thrive enough to steal Facebook’s crown? To answer that question I began exploring whether or not Facebook possessed any sort of Achilles’ heel that could leave it vulnerable to competitors.
It didn’t take much digging to uncover a few contenders right off the bat. I was immediately intrigued when I saw Douglas Rushkoff’s article on whether Facebook could maintain it’s edge after going public and Josh Constine’s summary of potential threats to “the big blue giant” (such as government intervention, smaller screens, and, of course, whoever amounts to being the next Mark Zuckerberg). Next, I stumbled upon an interesting article that asked whether or not Facebook had destroyed the word ‘friend’. It does seem to have lost some value. I also uncovered a piece by Forbes writer Eric Jackson detailing why he thinks Facebook investors should be worried that Mark is “completely missing the boat on the importance of mobile.”
Speaking of Facebook investors, it clearly wasn’t a reassuring gesture when GM mulled pulling the plug on advertising right before the social network’s big IPO (which Warren Buffet did not participate in for whatever it’s worth). Rory Sutherland’s assessment that Twitter will be more valuable than Facebook in the long run is also food for thought. It’s not just investors, however, that have something to think about. Can businesses trust Facebook not to make sudden changes that may be detrimental? And what about the privacy and trust concerns that have consistently plagued Facebook? In the same study cited earlier, 59% of the people polled said they trust Facebook only a little or not at all. That little ditty comes amidst censorship worries recently uncovered by Robert Scoble. The list of issues Facebook is facing doesn’t end there. See this recent Wired article for a more thorough exploration of Facebook’s potential vulnerabilities.
Interesting. By this point ReadWriteWeb and AdAge had me wondering whether or not Facebook was a permanent staple of our society or the new America Online circa 2000? It does appear that a few cracks have begun forming in Facebook’s armor which means, of course, there’s at least a chance, however slight or not, that Facebook could be eventually be outdone by an opponent. I wonder what that would look like? If I had to venture a guess, I’d say a toppling blow to Facebook is most likely to come in the form of a motivated competitor acquiring the talent and product of a scrappy startup and combining forces in a manner that either renders Facebook’s product obsolete or irrelevant. Then again, it’s conceivable that a startup with a compelling enough product could soar to superstardom all on it’s own or that something like Google+ (or Pinterest for that matter) could develop an earth-shattering new feature. In the end, Facebook’s demise could simply come from sitting pretty for too long like Microsoft did for so many years.
8 Compelling Social Startups to Watch
Once I was satisfied that there was at least a vulnerability or two a competitor could aim at, I wanted to know what social startups, if any, could offer a viable Facebook alternative for connecting with people in a meaningful way online (either in part or in whole). Why focus on startups? Clearly any current competitors have not been able to usurp Facebook’s social dominance as of yet, so it seemed only natural to assume some fresh blood would be a necessary part of the toppling equation. What I found wasn’t surprising: there are some ingenious new social products that show plenty of potential (enough for big name investors to take note). I’m not talking about shot-for-shot Facebook clones. Instead, the startups I’m featuring here each have a unique angle (or at the very least add a new level of functionality to Facebook’s social equation).
True, these startups may not have set out with the goal of toppling Facebook, but, their very existence represents the possibility of a new era in social networking. These are all companies to keep an eye on. You might as well view the following as a list of acquisition targets. Executives from the 8 companies below told DailyTekk exactly what makes them unique and sets their product apart from the establishment. Here’s what they had to say:
Pearescope privately introduces you to nearby friends of friends.
“Your network is everything. The future of your career, love life, friendships, and even happiness depend on it. Existing networking tools like Facebook and LinkedIn are static catalogues of past connections, and are not particularly useful for making new connections these days. Pearescope flips that model on its head, and uses your existing catalogue of connections to proactively and effortlessly meet new people in your various social circles,” said Evan Walther, Pearescope CEO and cofounder.
Forecast is a fun and simple way for friends to share what they are doing.
René Pinnell, the CEO of Forecast, has a forward-looking focus: “Forecast is like Facebook’s timeline feature but for the future. Instead of mapping all of the things you’ve already done, Forecast maps your future. Magic happens when you go from past tense to future tense. With Facebook you brag about fun things you’ve done but with Forecast you actually create fun things to do. When your friends see where you are going they can decide to join you. Forecast is social networking that’s actually social.”
Path lets you stay connected with family and close friends.
Path CEO Dave Morin: “The designers and engineers at Path have dreamed up and realized the Smart Journal–a journal that’s with you everywhere you go, posts entries without your effort, combines photo, video, music, people, places, and text, and most importantly, includes your loved ones. Path upholds the expectations for privacy of both the mobile phone and the journal with its limited, intimate, more personal network. On Path you can share your thoughts, the music you’re listening to, where you are, who you’re with, when you wake and when you sleep, your photos and videos and your fitness activities. For those who enjoy sharing on networks like Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook, it’s simple to check-in, upload photos and videos, and tweet directly from Path with just one more button tap.”
Banjo lets you know when friends are near and lets you see who’s talking about things you love.
Banjo CEO Damien Patton: “As more and more people are using mobile devices to stay connected to their social networks, location adds a whole new dimension to social. It’s no longer just about what is being shared, but from where. Banjo maps out locations not by latitudes and longitudes, but by people who are sharing moments on multiple networks through their mobile device. Banjo is the next generation of social networking, and combines updates from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Linkedin to create the most robust social networking and discovery platform today.”
Highlight is a fun way to learn about people nearby.
Highlight CEO Paul Davison: “Highlight is a new type of mobile app that helps you learn more about the people around you. As you go about your day it runs quietly in the background, notifying you when friends are nearby, helping you remember people’s names, and surfacing the hidden connections you have with others in the room. It’s like having a small bio floating in the air above everyone’s head. Our goal is to give you a sixth sense about the world around you, helping you see things that you’ve never been able to see before. It’s a new type of sharing that is just now becoming possible thanks to recent advances in mobile technology.”
Everyme is a private social network that lets you choose who to share with and how.
Everyme CEO Oliver Cameron: “Facebook has been persistent in changing the default sharing status to public and in so doing they have failed to understand natural human behavior. People don’t want to share everything with everyone. That’s the key guiding principle we used to build Everyme. We noticed that people share way more when they are in a comfortable and intimate environment. When you have 300 friends on Facebook you constantly wonder whether the content you are about to share is relevant or significant enough, but when you have a Circle with 5 people, you don’t have those worries. Our goal is to let people be themselves and to create a comfortable place for them to share with those they truly care about.”
Touch is a cross-platform messaging and media sharing platform that lets you share and chat with your closest friends and family.
Touch Co-Founder and CEO Derek Ting: “Touch focuses on realtime interactions and close relationships. Our product is realtime (you’ll receive push notification in your pocket whenever something happens). Facebook is less realtime because you check it out when you have free time. Being notified whenever something changed in your Facebook feed would result in a very noisy experience because of the loose nature of Facebook relationships. That is why we focus on realtime interaction and close relationships, which Facebook doesn’t do as well.”
Meeteor is a networking assistant that introduces you to the people that matter.
Meeteor Co-Founder Philip Cortes: “Meeteor gets you personal introductions into the companies, industries, and people you’re interested in, by leveraging your connections from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can think of it as your personal networking concierge: you tell us what it is you need, and our algorithms find the very best people for you to meet across all your social networks. Our algorithms take things into account like friends, schools, work place and other social history you have in common. We find that the process of searching and finding the right person to connect with on Facebook and LinkedIn is quite tedious: the search boxes are convoluted, and the results are endless. With Meeteor, you simply state the companies, industries, and skills you’re targeting, and we’ll crawl through every network to find the absolute best 10 people you should connect with, and the reasons why.”