Is it time for Facebook to give up the social network crown?

Facebook might just be getting a little bit too big for its boots. As it starts to climb from the 1 billion user mark, with its sights set on 2 billion in as little as two years, it’s starting to struggle with processing its data. And this might mean it needs to relinquish its place at the top of the social network food chain.

The CTO at Huffington Post, John Pavley, believes that Facebooks growth is going to seriously impact the quality of the social network. Like duh, right? Well his argument isn’t just about the fact that we now have ads all over the place, not to mention little glitches here and there that drive us insane. No, in fact, his argument is a lot more fundamental than that: when you have too many users, you don’t have the capacity to actually gain useful value from new users coming in. He argues that it’s the Law of Diminishing Returns in action. Facebook is struggling to process the data for 1 billion users: how will it ever afford to manage 2 billion?

Pavley does have some suggestions on how Mark Zuckerberg and his team could salvage Facebook from the furnace it’s building for itself. He suggests they take on a ‘freemium’ model – offer an ad-free network to monthly subscribers, much like Apple’s or Spotify’s models. Another suggestion is to welcome the open source community with open arms – get worldwide geek help on, you know, the geeky stuff. Which, you know, they’re doing really badly at the moment.

But the suggestion I think that has the most promise is the “birth control” option:

Birth Control! News flash to the other six billion people in the world: Facebook is closed! Go join Google Plus and be Larry and Sergey’s problem. Google’s healthy search business can foot the bill for the giant social network that Facebook can’t. Facebook doesn’t need to be the only social network and it might die if it gets much bigger. Instead Facebook should focus on improving the number and quality of the social connections between its high value users.

Facebook has had its day in the sun, its frolic in the fields of the world wide web. It’s time to settle down, back in the hometown and start polishing its jewels. The truth is there: Google+ is the social network of the future because it has access to he vast resources of Google, which Facebook simply couldn’t hope to rival. Google doesn’t need to pollute your feed with ads, because it’s already making all the money it needs from its search business. It can “foot the bill” for being the king of the social network castle.

But that doesn’t mean Facebook needs to become irrelevant. Twitter, Pintrest, LinkedIn aren’t irrelevant. Why? They give you a function, or service, a niche that the ‘giant’ network doesn’t. Twitter creates an immediate, right-this-millisecond source for news. Things appear on Twitter before anywhere else. You don’t scroll through your Twitter feed – you watch it. Pintrest is all about the visual – it’s the virtual photo wall, unpolluted by ugly words. It’s the graphic designers dream. LinkedIn is, obviously, in the niche of the professional, rather than randomly social, network.

No, what Mr. Zuckerburg needs to think about is what he created this network for in the first place. Facebook, out of necessity, has become all about the money and less about the networking. Facebook should take five steps back and return to the days when you needed a university email address to join. Make Facebook THE University network. Make it all about the students – and then you can create a service that is designed specifically, and perfectly, for students. Leave the ‘giant’ network to Google.

Facebook could reshape and become ideal for planning massive house parties, for facilitating inter-University rivalry, for last-minute online cramming sessions before the exam, for downloading the lectures you missed because you were sick (hungover).

Leave the rest of the world to adopt Google Plus. Which, if you really play with it, actually has features that facilitate social networking across a broad spectrum in a much more intelligent fashion than Facebook anyway. All it needs is for people to engage in it.

If Facebook focuses down on this student activity, it could form partnerships (and gain sponsorship) with Universities to integrate into their actual learning systems. Most Universities already have some sort of “student portal” system, in order to disseminate information about classes electronically. Why not merge this into Facebook?

Facebook could become the ultimate yearbook for the University experience. When you graduate, maybe Facebook could offer you a compilation of the highlights of your timeline while at University to be published into a book that you pay for and have shipped to your doorstep.

Associate with travel sites geared towards students for advertising revenue. Offer students cheap travel deals. Cheap textbook deals. Cheap food and drink deals. The possibilities, to me, seem endless if they renounce the crown and scale back, focusing on creating a smaller and truly valuable product, rather than an enormous and mediocre product.

What do you think? Is it all just a bunch if hot air and will Facebook simply rise to the challenge of 2 billion users? Or should it cut its losses before it crashes and burns?

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Note: (If you didn’t quite get this already…) This article contains the opinions of the author (whose name is Daljeet…as indicated below) and not the entire GaS website. Just to be clear.