I have spent a good amount of time looking online for an accurate and fact-based forecast on social media properties. Unfortunately, most of what I have found is conjecture, trends and/or opinion-based information with little or not historical or empirical data to back it up. So how do you forecast something that doesn’t have much of a history or hasn’t even matured enough to build a model around? You start by looking at what has gone full-circle and then step back and look at how the current properties trend against historical data.
Let me put this into context; I am not going to actually forecast specific dates, times or outcomes of companies. I will give you access to the data for your interpretation, opinion, feedback and maybe your predictions.
My numbers are based on Google Insights. I opted to use this method because using the number of subscribers, page views or unique visitors can all be misleading (yes, I know, so can Insights). But I am a member of almost every single one of these sites and I regularly visit only about five of them. I also wanted a metric that skewed away from geeks and I know we don’t type URLs, search terms or sites into Google to find something and a lot of lay-people do. Debate-away but it is a solid trending metric, although from a single search engine.
Here is what I noticed, it’s fairly obvious, from the data; which all started when I noticed the similarity between the Technology Adoption Lifecycle (developed by Joe M. Bohlen, George M. Beal and Everett M. Rogers at Iowa State University) and companies like Digg, Meebo, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster and the once behemoth MySpace.
- Social networks are not the only online properties that tend to follow the Technology Adoption Lifecycle. I selected a few major properties to see if they trended similar to social networks and although most of the ones I selected did not follow the bell-curve, they did have similarities (coming up…)
- The Technology Adoption Lifecycle, for unsustainable companies spans between 5 and 7.5 years. “Unsustainable” is a subjective term and can be debated, as can why or how they became such.
- The Technology Adoption Lifecycle standard curve does NOT apply to those companies providing a value-added service as long as they remain competitive or host content that is of value to it’s users.
- Sustainable companies seem to have a 30-40% drop from peak and then plateau into a sustainable, longer-term business.
- There are a substantial number of companies continuing to climb or who are at their peak, including but not limited to:
- Google News
- GoWalla.com (they may be on decline but I think it’s too early)
- MyLife.com (current business model seems to put them in decline but too early to tell)
- A double-peak is possible (see Google Orkut, likely a result of globalization)
- Size doesn’t matter; MySpace is the most obvious example but it isn’t the user-base that determines destiny. The product, user-base, value added offerings and demand are also large factors.
- It’s still early. I tend to think that social networks will ebb and flow in 7-10 year cycles. No teenager wants to use or be on the same social network as their parents but everyone tends to hold on to those things that work and tend to improve to their liking.
- Jumping the shark is bad but not devastating – sites that drop 30-40%, usually due to something they did or had done to them, either results in finding a niche or dropping off the map.
- Google Plus is too young to start planning for its future. I love Google Plus but I also know that it’s too young to forecast it’s future at this time. Let’s talk when it turns one.
SustainingClick to view animated image
For those of you who enjoy doing math in your spare time, feel free to hit WolframAlpha and plug in your normal distribution forecasting estimates to predict the future or longevity of your favorite social network or sites.
I have been an internet professional for over 16 years and I have learned that the growth and maturity of the internet is cyclical, often predictable and continually becoming more refined. The longer the internet exists and is a part of our culture, workflow and method of communication, the less we tend to ebb and flow between what is new and shiny and the more we tend to attach to what works and is ‘standard’ among us.
Much like our dependence on Microsoft; online, we have come to accept some inferior solutions for our online experience simply because the masses have adopted them. Fortunately, and unlike our operating system and office productivity bond, our online bond seems to have a much looser grip and tends to be largely a generational and (content) hosting preference.
Download an excel doc. containing some of the chart data.