The Unbundling of Facebook
In the 2010s, Facebook ushered in a new era of Internet behaviors by normalizing online social connectivity. Our friend networks became powerfully codified and enhanced — our biggest leap since the invention of the rolodex.
As a Gen Z who grew up on Facebook, I viewed wall posts, profile picture likes, and photo tags as the de facto social currency in middle and high school. Today, my feed has become a rather odd amalgamation of stale remixed TikToks and group updates.
And I’m not alone in this experience: We are now at a critical inflection point where Facebook users declined for the first time as new user signups no longer outnumber old user churn. As people migrate off Facebook and younger generations discover new tools, our online social habits are desperate to find a new home. The fracturing of Facebook has launched a Cambrian explosion of new vertical consumer platforms.
Rewind to 2021, and an obscure pastel colored app is beginning to take off in New York City. From housewarming parties to crypto gatherings to influencer meetups, getting a glittery Partiful invite felt like being part of a cool secret club. Partiful was the natural and casual way for Gen Zs to host events: sharing was as easy as texting a link or posting a story, and far less cringe than friending strangers on Facebook or sludging through Eventbrite.
Unsurprisingly, Partiful spread like wildfire: after pandemic lockdowns, socializing felt like a breath of fresh air. The platform quickly accumulated at least hundreds of thousands of users and millions in venture capital funding. Now they’ve become a social platform of their own: as their users attend and host more events, their Partiful account automatically collects previous attendees and co-attendees for future access.
This is not the first time an upstart has lapped Facebook. In 2010, a photo sharing app called Instagram launched by two Stanford students ate Facebook’s lunch for years before finally getting acquired and growing to be the top social app. Now we’re beginning to see the same disruption happen in verticals from group messaging to gaming to resale markets.
The Anti-Facebook Landscape
Behavior: Facebook Events and low friction event invitations.
Platforms: Partiful, Luma, Eventbrite
Behavior: Statuses, wall posts, pokes, polls, “rate me” social signaling, and social ranking challenges with quick dopamine bursts.
Platforms: Stories, Gas, Slay, mw/f, ask.fm
Behavior: Semi-anonymous Facebook groups around organized interests.
Platforms: Reddit, Telegram, Discord, Fizz, Village, Picnic
Behavior: Facebook Marketplace and trusted social selling. This may be the last holdout in truly “sticky” features of Facebook — it’s tough to build social proof and trust from scratch.
Platforms: Poshmark, Airbnb, Depop, Tradesy, Rebag, Etsy
Behavior: Social photo sharing and newsfeeds. This type of content nugget may have hit its own saturation point as we turn to platforms with a more personalized & authentic feel.
Platforms: Instagram, WeChat, Snap, BeReal, Seen, Locket
Behavior: Group albums and mutual tagging.
Platforms: Instagram, Cluster, Poparazzi, Google Photos, Snap
Behavior: Curation, location tracking and location based social.
Platforms: Yelp, Google Maps, Strava
Behavior: Social gaming with friends via Messenger & Games. Social gaming as a category already existed but few took advantage of preexisting friend graphs.
Platforms: Jackbox, League of Legends, Overwatch, Roblox, Minecraft
Behavior: Facebook friends and an enhanced digital rolodex. These could be further bundled with other CRM-adjacent services.
Platforms: Clay, Sunshine, Nat, Queue
Even with these developments, the magic of Facebook is not going away soon. There are challenges to building any platform at scale, especially in consumer social where your distribution often becomes your product.
However, this is not without massive opportunity. Facebook’s original moat of massive distribution and network effects is slowly getting drained. As we begin to see reverse network effects among younger generations (i.e. half your friends delete the app, so you stop posting), the white space for an unbundled Facebook will break open from a crack to a deluge.
At its bare bones, Facebook is a sophisticated contact book whose true power comes from the people you’ve accumulated over the years. To achieve similar staying power and deep network effects, the winners to emerge will need to have a combination of:
- Creative distribution strategies to overcome the cold start problem
- Ability to change someone’s behavior and make it permanently sticky
- Potential to win the vertical via network effects and expand to more than one use case
Facebook paved the way for billions of people to develop behaviors around online socializing. As more of the world’s population becomes connected, the appetite for specialized online social tools will only increase. It remains to be seen which tools consumers will permanently adopt and which tools they will try like diets. Either way, I’m personally excited to experience where this next decade takes us.
Thinking about social platforms or building one? Let’s chat! Please feel free to reach out on Twitter @isabelle_zhou or email firstname.lastname@example.org.