Facebook’s core business problem

From ZDNet:

Summary: The social media service has done a great job including just about everyone with an Internet connection. That’s exactly the problem.

Like any social media platform, Facebook needs eyeballs to survive. It doesn’t matter how many photos or games or pages or even deals it has to offer; if people are not interested in using the service, it’s all for naught.

Over the years, the service has been aggressive in making changes to ensure its survival, and over the long-run, they’ve largely been savvy decisions: the news feed, formal pages and Timeline have all helped the service structure data in such a way to facilitate targeted advertising and the like, even if I’ll never be completely content with the restriction that I can’t simply put “early ’90s alternative rock” as a music preference and just leave it at that.

Over time, Facebook grew from a restrictive Ivy League social network to one where only the non-digital were left out. Like so many other social networks, from Twitter to Path to Pinterest, Facebook started as a trendy club. The difference is that it evolved carefully enough to turn the place into a global town square.

That’s a wonderful thing, both for Internet denizens and Facebook’s business model. More scale in user adoption and more leverage in business deals, all while users get to reconnect with old friends and distant family. Win-win.

Early in its evolution, Facebook shifted users’ attention from profiles to status updates, after it introduced the News Feed. For a long time, that wasn’t a big deal — sure, there was a lot more information to digest, and some people cried foul about it. But it was all being created by friends you cared about.

As Facebook continued to scale, so did our friends circles, and now it’s likely that you’re Facebook friends with family members, coworkers, college friends and post-college friends, with handfuls of single-serving contacts along the way. Your personal network now encompasses a number of real-life social circles, past and present, with just a single thing in common: you.

Facebook has met this overwhelming amount of information by employing an algorithm to emphasize and de-emphasize certain friends’ updates. It has been a rocky path: first, Facebook gave users the ability to create custom lists around those real-life friends circles (e.g. work, family, friends). Then it realized only a minority of users were using the tools, so it started taking matters into its own hands.

Wonder why you never see updates from your 348th high school classmate anymore? That’s why.

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