We live in a pivotal era of technology. After some tumultuous steps in the 1990s and 2000s, the Internet has been readily accepted and incorporated as a staple element of everyday life. We’ve seen countless websites rise and fall in popularity, seemingly overnight, and a handful of sites that have stuck around for 20 years or even longer. Who would have guessed that Napster would have died away, or that Google would become the ubiquitous technological juggernaut it is today back in the year 2000?
Because web technology has been a volatile development (think about how drastically concepts of web design have shifted, or the tech bubble “bursting” in the early 2000s), we’ve grown used to the idea that most web-based enterprises will eventually burn out or fade away. MySpace is a perfect example of this on the social media front—yes, it’s still technically alive—but it’s nowhere close to the level of popularity it used to enjoy.
A Question of Longevity
Think about the longevity of some of the most popular tech companies today. It’s hard to imagine Google, eBay, or Amazon ever disappearing, the same way we all suspect brands like Walmart and Coca-Cola will persist for hundreds of years. Facebook is a strong contender for this category, as it continues to evolve and push the limits of new areas (think: AI, digital assistants, virtual reality, universal free Internet, etc.). It’s also reporting strong revenue and its shares are at close to an all-time high from its tumultuous IPO just a few years ago.
For these reasons, I’m going to table Facebook in this discussion—it seems likely that Facebook will become another Google (if it hasn’t already) and persist for many years to come. But what about some of the other major popular platforms of our era? Can they last, for all intents and purposes, forever? Let’s take a look at each of the major players individually.
Twitter has introduced a handful of new features recently—most notably Moments—but ultimately, it hasn’t changed much from its original launch. It introduced us to a world of more public interactions, hashtags, and short posts, but what has it done for us lately? Its abuse problem is still a major concern, it isn’t receiving much in the way of revenue, and user engagement continues to spiral downward. Twitter doesn’t grow so much as it just continues to exist, and many forecasters have predicted that Twitter will die soon.
I’ll come out and say it—YouTube isn’t going anywhere. Competing video providers (think niche competitors like Netflix and Hulu, but also divergent competitors like Facebook) have threatened YouTube’s business, but user, content, and engagement growth just keeps increasing. Besides, it’s a household name that almost everyone uses, and if that weren’t enough, it’s owned by Google. Consider YouTube here for the long haul.
LinkedIn has seen slow and steady growth over the years as more and more professionals start relying on it for HR, new jobs, sales, and other professional exchanges. LinkedIn is pushing into some new technological ground, and it’s proven itself as dominant in a niche that will never disappear (professional interaction). At the same time, its value has fluctuated wildly, and its revenue is anything but consistent. What does that mean for the future of the platform? It’ll be here for a while but “forever” is too long to say at this point.
Instagram has been hailed as the future of social media, in part because of its explosive growth. However, explosive growth is often an indication of a short-lived trend. At five years old, it’s hard to argue that Instagram is (or was) a trend, but with a niche focus in a medium (rather than a demographic) and few improvements over the past years, its future is indefinite.
SnapChat arose in response to a trend that’s already peaked; fears of user privacy on the Internet (specifically on social media). Its response to this—in the form of “disposable” or temporary messages—was brilliant at the time. But because it’s a kind of reactionary platform, is its lifespan limited? It also keeps coming out with new features and new functions, so it definitely has lasting potential; it’s just a matter of whether it can sustain that pace.
Pinterest’s bulletin board-style form has been much adored by its dedicated community. Pinterest users are deeply committed to the app, and its new business model is promising both for the platform and the businesses that use it, but it remains to be seen whether Pinterest will be able to adapt into something entirely new (and whether its most dedicated users will handle that change well).
In evolutionary biology, the theory of natural selection dictates that individuals within a species with more adaptive traits will survive to reproduce and create more offspring, eventually helping the species retain more adaptive traits. Individuals, and eventually species, with maladaptive traits will die off. “Adaptive” here doesn’t mean strong or smart or deadly, at least not necessarily. It means perfectly suited to one’s environment.
Accordingly, the social media platforms that survive won’t be the ones with the most novel ideas, or the ones with the highest-functioning platforms; they’ll be the ones who have adapted best to new consumer trends and desires. Facebook, which adapts and reinvents itself constantly, will remain alive as long as it continues to evolve, while Twitter, which hasn’t changed much from the beginning, is doomed to die if it doesn’t change with its audience.
Armed with this knowledge, invest yourself in the platforms you believe to be most likely to survive the social media “mass extinctions” that are inevitably coming—and don’t forget to adapt your own business to changing circumstances.
This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.