As even the most clueless student of evolution knows, organisms become more complex as they evolve, passing on the traits that helped them survive their environment down to the next generation.
I’ve been wondering recently if this rule might apply to social platforms too, as you could almost imagine their APIs as being like the vital sensory organs which allow them to feed and populate as they grow, and their features, the attributes that maintain their lifeforce of user interest, as their survival traits.
Th question is though, in the race to offer new features and integrations in order to maintain the edge over their competitors, could the likes of Facebook and Google+ end up evolving into something bloated and out of touch with their users – starving themselves of the attention they need in the process?
Of course many of these features are great for those of us with an interest in technology and an appetite for the new, but the average user may not want to spend the time with them or, as an alternative to new features on established platforms, opt for a simpler solution (such as a basic mobile or web app) that offers a similar feature instead.
For instance, more simplistic platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Pintrest suit the needs of smartphone users at a time when the use of these devices is increasing at a staggering rate. You could also claim that a large proportion of their success is down to this aptitude for mobile use, meaning that in a sense they have evolved into a form which is able to thrive in the current digital environment.
Too much bloat?
My feeling is that in the future users may not want to search through their Facebook, Linkedin or Google+ mobile apps to find a particular feature (no matter how great the interface is) when that feature is instantly accessible elsewhere. The existence of app stores – the buyer behaviour of which is, I’m sure, similar to any other store, could also fuel users’ desires for multiple ‘single purpose’ apps as people feel the need for variety and freedom of choice.
Facebook has at least secured itself by ensuring that many of these ‘single purpose’ platforms are populating its users Timelines, giving them relevance within their own vast social space – it’s a clever, seemingly non-competitive approach certainly, but I have to wonder whether Facebook will just end up buying up some of these platforms and incorporating their features, especially the ones that have the ability to generate advertising revenue.
So whilst I’m impressed with Facebook’s Timeline and eager to see what the future holds for Google+, I still wonder just how many of the features introduced to these platforms will actually capture the imagination and attention of the casual user or end up as wonderful ideas consigned to history’s scrapheap – because if social platforms can evolve then they can also wither, and they can die.