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February 4, 2019updated 06 Feb 2019 12:11pm

Facebook is 15: What could the future of Facebook hold?

By Ellen Daniel

Today marks Facebook’s 15th birthday, and like most unruley teenagers, the social media giant has seen its fair share of trouble.

Starting life in a dormitory at Harvard, sophomore student Mark Zuckerberg built a website called “Facemash” in which users could rate their fellow students as “hot or not”. After this site was removed by the college administrators, it then evolved into TheFacebook. Students could create a profile, upload photos and connect with other users and soon the site snowballed into a global phenomenon.

Over recent years, the company has been followed by scandal, with the company’s data privacy practices exposed through the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the personal data of 87 million Facebook profiles was handed over to the third party company.

Just last week technology website TechCruch accused Facebook of harvesting user data by paying people, including teenagers, to download a research app, allowing access to their phone and web activity.

However, despite significant reputational damage, recent results show that the the site made a record $6.88bn in profits in the last quarter.

Worldwide, there are over 2.32 billion monthly active users as of December 31, 2018. This is a 9% increase year over year, suggesting that calls for users to #deletefacebook have not had a lasting impact on the company.

But 15 years from now, will the social media giant still reign? And if so, what could the future of Facebook look like?

Virtual Reality

Back in 2014, Facebook purchased VR startup Oculus for $3bn. Although the company is yet to launch any VR-compatible services, this suggests that Zuckerberg’s vision for the future of Facebook is that it does not only exist on a 2D screen.

Facebook Spaces, in which users create avatars and interact with friends through a virtual reality world, is one form this could take. Launched as a beta version in 2017, it is a clear indication that Facebook intends to be a trailblazer in the adoption of VR technology by social networks.

Zuckerberg may not have yet achieved his dream of having a billion people using virtual reality, but in 15 years time, this may look more likely.

One platform

Last week, Facebook announced that it was combining Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp into one underlying messaging platform to allow communication between the services.

This suggests that Facebook is pushing for more integration between the different services, operating more as micro-sites within a Facebook platform. Similar to the hugely popular WeChat in China, in 15 years time users may be able to conduct all their online activities without having to leave the platform.

Last year, Facebook also rolled out its video-streaming service, Facebook Watch, worldwide, suggesting that an increased focus on integrating entertainment into the platform could be on the horizon.

Peter Wallace, UK Commercial Director at GumGum believes that Facebook will look to further integrate popular features from the likes of Instagram into its own site:

“Consumers across the globe are turning to more visual forms of communication for social sharing – with short form video and imagery becoming the preferred options. The colossal success of the photo sharing app Instagram and, more recently, TikTok is proof of this. This is something that brands need to take into account when defining and implementing their digital and social media strategies, by ensuring they produce visually accessible content that resonates and engages with this audience.

“In response, Facebook is paying greater attention to its ‘’story’’ function, and aligning itself with the features and functions of its sister brand – Instagram. However, in the years ahead this may not be enough, as Facebook will continue to face competition from new, emerging social platforms.”

An older demographic

If current trends continue, Facebook looks likely to move even further away from the youthful audience that once flocked to the site. According to The Guardian, In 2018, 2.2 million 12 to 17-year-olds and 4.5 million 18 to 24-year-olds regularly used Facebook in the UK, 700,000 fewer than in 2017, with this demographic favouring other sites such as Snapchat. The number of users age 55 to 64, however, reached 3.5 million, up 200,000 users.

Last week, Dr Ben Marder, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at University of Edinburgh Business School told Verdict that the platform should embrace this changing demographic over the next few years:

“Facebook is now not cool. It was cool, but that was in 2012 when the company first floated on the stock exchange – a light year ago in the fast-moving space of social media.

“Stop trying to be cool and accept that Instagram and Snapchat are more desirable platforms for younger users (specifically in Europe and America). Facebook would be best served strategically aiming and tailoring its core site at its increasingly older demographic.”

Facebook Portal

Last year, Facebook launched Facebook Portal, its own video calling device. With the likes of Amazon and Google dominating the smart assistant market, it is only a matter of time before Facebook wants its own slice of the pie. If it can gain back the trust of its users to allow the company to infiltrate their lives even further, it looks likely that Facebook’s own smart devices could come to the market over the next decade and a half.

More attractive to advertisers than ever

Despite attracting realms of negative publicity over its dealings with advertisers, Aaron Goldman, CMO at 4C Insights, believes that the site will continue to be an attractive option for advertisers over the next 15 years:

“Today, Facebook is disrupting its core business in the short-term to position itself for continued domination in the long-term. As one of the world’s most powerful and valuable companies, Facebook has the luxury – and responsibility – of planning years and decades ahead.

“In the next 15 years, Facebook will have transitioned from Facebook the Platform to Facebook the Holding Company. As a holding company, Facebook can more effectively bundle people and advertising across its different properties, providing brands with increasingly better performance at scale, with Stories being the epicentre of its (r)evolution.”

Paying for privacy

Another expert, David Clare, partner and head of content & digital at Tyto PR, believes that a paid-for service could be on the cards for the future of Facebook, but this may be the cause of its demise:

“One very likely scenario is that Facebook becomes much more privacy focused, with users potentially unwilling to pay for the service or be advertised to, which is very likely to send the social network to an early grave.

“Alternatively, another source of revenue opens up. In 15 years’ time, maybe, just maybe, Facebook will have been able to educate its users on why paying for its service is worthwhile. A monthly subscription isn’t very likely, but premium services (i.e. Netflix and Spotify) may create products worth paying for.”