Are messaging apps the biggest threat to Facebook?

facebook-mobile-app

Facebook has been the social ring leader before social media was even a fully recognized market. But lately, from the outside Facebook is looking less like a leader and more like a follower – which is partially expected, given its position. Once you get to a certain size, a company is maintaining innovation. “Disruption” rarely happens any more. This maintenance is no small order, however – just look at Facebook’s transition into mobile.

Trying to “get” mobile was painful for Facebook, to say the least, and the users ended up inconvenienced. The situation has been improving since the team decided to give up on HTML 5 and go native, but there are more threats on the horizon. Keeping Facebook relevant will be a challenge and with the introduction of the new News Feed, we have to ask: is Facebook stalling its own growth and giving alternative mobile-only apps a leg up? 

The truly mobile social network

One of the largest looming threats to Facebook coming from messaging apps is their transition into mobile-only, more personal social networks. 

Why are messaging apps evolving into social networks? Well, first off because these apps can. Messaging circa WhatsApp has proven to be wildly popular, and there’s enough evidence based on downloads, engagement, and usage metrics to show us that its popularity isn’t a fad.

Second of all, communication and social networking really do go hand-in-hand. As much as broadcasting your every move to the public is what Facebook wants you to do, in many instances we’d prefer to communicate with friends at a personal level. So we keep in touch with closer friends through GChat, Facebook Messenger, SMS, or other or other means like messaging apps. What the slew of new messaging apps are doing is exactly what Facebook does, but in reverse: Instead of starting as a place for public communication where you can then tailor it down to individuals, you start out privately sharing and then building your circle out from there. In an age where privacy is a major concern, selective sharing is becoming a popular idea. 

In a study, Facebook researchers even admit that news feeds are really a critical part of a social network, and reasons that “these short updates allow individuals to keep tabs on many ties at once, without the purposeful effort of an email or phone call.” It’s a feature messaging apps like LINE, WhatsApp, and Tango have all built in, and a major reason why they’re becoming popular alternatives. 

line timeline

LINE for starters realized that its social network foray was absent a newsfeed so it introduced its own take back in July of last year named Timeline. “Timeline” is a name probably chosen out of more than mere coincidence, with features we’ve seen before like status updates, and photo and video sharing. Then there’s WeChat’s Moments, which by its look and feel really is uncanny to Facebook’s Timeline but acts like a news feed.

Threats from all sides

There is almost no contending with Facebook’s 1.1 billion users. Popular messaging apps WeChat has 300 million, and Line 100 million. But looking at usage on a market-by-market level basis, you’ll see that Facebook, while a domineering voice in the West, isn’t as dominant in the East as it needs to be to set itself apart from competitors. For instance LINE is a force in Japan with 40 million users to date, while Facebook has 13.8 million users there. WeChat’s largest user base comes from China, where Facebook is completely blocked off for those without a VPN and officially has only a few hundred thousand users.

What’s threatening to Facebook is that now with a comfortable foothold in the Asian markets where Facebook lags behind (or isn’t present at all), these apps are starting to move beyond this territory into new, western waters. LINE is making a play for Europe, the U.S., and Latin American markets, while rumor has it that WeChat’s shopping around for a San Francisco office to kick start its global expansion plans.

Facebook’s woes don’t end with the East. We’ve witnessed home grown messaging apps like Tango and even the chatting client Imo.im slowly evolve into mobile social networks. Tango in its latest branding efforts coming out of announcing its 100 million user milestone, positioned its messaging to associate “social network” with “Tango” when the company reached out to us. Imo, quietly rolled out a newsfeed of its own called “Broadcasts.”

path messaging feature

The shocker as of late was mobile social network Path and it’s foray into messaging. Its messaging features were obviously heavily influenced by popular messaging apps judging from features like stickers, messaging, and push-to-talk making it into the latest update. Although with Imo’s six million mobile downloads, and Path’s six million users, these apps aren’t really “threats” per-say as they are just examples of the growing message-social network trend today.

Have we reached peak Facebook levels?

Facebook’s other major threat? Facebook.

Facebook has taken a huge risk by hedging its future on content, something the updated news feed release revealed. But this is a crowded space, filled by the likes of Pulse, Flipboard, and Zite. “Any step toward personalized news is a step in the right direction. I don’t think it has any implications for Zite. We’ve tried experiences before where personalized news is a small addition to a product whose focus is something else, and invariably found that people prefer a dedicated news experience. The two are complimentary, not competitive,” Zite CTO Mike Klaas says.

And teens, as we’ve reported before, might simply be losing their interest in Facebook. Even adults might be burned out. A Pew study found that 27 percent of users will decide to spend less time on the site, while 7 percent said they’d spend more time. 20 percent of online adults said they once used Facebook but quit cold turkey. What might be more alarming though is that 28 percent of Facebook users have said that Facebook is “less important to them than it was a year ago,” compared to 12 percent of users who said that it was more important. 34 percent of users say they’re spending less time on Facebook, while 13 percent say they’re spending more time using the social network. This particular age group has showed a significant interested in messaging apps, as well apps that have some sort of privacy or personal network built in (even falsely built in, a la Snapchat). 

Facebook’s competitive (and anti-competitive) future

Clearly, Facebook realizes that it holds all the cards when it comes to outside app threats in many concerns – all you have to do is look at its hit list to see who’s tread to closely on its turf. There’s a sense that Facebook is living on borrowed time, but of course it has a lot of that in storage to survive on, despite looming threats from messaging apps (or anyone else for that matter). “Because Facebook is so big, their challenge is different and unique. It (Facebook features or services) just needs to be a ‘new innovation’ for people who use Facebook all the time,” David-Michael Davies, Executive Director of The Webby Awards, says. In other words existing users just need to be satisfied with new Facebook features they’ll probably (or even just possibly) use, even if it they technically weren’t Facebook’s idea.

“Maybe Facebook innovates around the edges, but as people are using their services people in other places with new ideas around the world change. Social networks don’t change themselves, so they end up just going away because the idea they came up with in 2003 was great then but it’s just not that interesting to people in 2007. So I think for Facebook to not become Friendster but instead a social network of a billion users that lasts another 20 years, they’re going to have to announce new products, and I’d even say more dramatic innovations, every year, maybe even every two months.”

There may be new apps chomping at the bit, but at least for the moment, Facebook is still just racing itself. 

Product Review

The Huawei Watch GT’s battery life gets a tick, but the software may not tock

Huawei’s track record with smartwatches is strong, having releases two models and several spin-offs to general acclaim. This is the Watch GT, and it moves away from Google’s Wear OS to focus on fitness, yet stays ahead of the…
Photography

Adobe’s Premiere Rush is a video-editing app designed for social media projects

At Adobe MAX 2018, Adobe unveiled updates across the board for all of its Creative Cloud apps, from the release of Premiere Rush CC, a social-focused video editor, to Project Gemini, a digital drawing and painting tool.
Computing

Was your Facebook account hacked in the latest breach? Here’s how to find out

Facebook now reports that its latest data breach affected only 30 million users, down from an initial estimate of 50 million accounts. You can also find out if hackers had accessed your account by visiting a dedicated portal.
Social Media

Instagram is testing a new way for you to look through your feed

Instagram is constantly tweaking its app to help give its users the best experience possible, so how do you like the sound of tapping — instead of swiping — to look through your feed?
Social Media

3D Facebook photos jump out of the newsfeed, no glasses needed

You're not seeing things -- that photo in your Facebook newsfeed is 3D. Launching today, 3D Facebook Photos use the depth maps from dual-lens smartphones to add dimension to an image as you move your phone.
Product Review

If Huawei sells the Mate 20 Pro in the U.S., Samsung needs to watch its back

Huawei knocked it out of the park with the P20 Pro earlier this year, and it’s looking to do the same again with the Mate 20 Pro. The Mate series has traditionally been sold in the U.S., so will Americans finally be able to get a taste?
Product Review

You’d be crazy to dismiss the Huawei Mate 20 as an amateur

Traditionally, Huawei’s Mate series of phones has been a little staid. That started to change with the Mate 10 Pro, and now both the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro have come along to turn our heads. Here’s a look at the standard Mate 20.
Mobile

Mate 20 range now includes new 20 X model with huge 7.2-inch display

Huawei has released the Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro, and Mate 20 X. With all new Kirin processors, advanced A.I. brains, and an amazing triple camera, here's absolutely everything you need to know about the new Mate 20 series.
Mobile

Safeguard your new Apple smartphone with one of our favorite iPhone XS cases

If the iPhone XS is your next phone, then you’ll want to shop for some proper protection now. That glass sandwich design is all too easy to scratch or crack, so make sure you snag one of the best iPhone XS cases to keep it looking good.
Mobile

Here are our favorite wireless phone chargers for Android devices and iPhones

We checked out the best wireless phone chargers to make tangles and uncooperative ports a thing of the past. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, find out which wireless charging pads are worth buying, and how their features compare.
Mobile

Google will start charging Android manufacturers to use its apps in Europe

Google announced that it will be charging Android device manufacturers in Europe a licensing fee to use its apps and services. The announcement comes as an effort to comply with new European Commission regulations.
Home Theater

The best MP3 players of 2018

Want to go for a run, but your phone is weighing you down? No worries. Can't fit your whole music library on your smartphone? Don't sweat it. Check out our list of the best MP3 players, and find one that works for you.
Mobile

Inferiority is a feature now! Palm's new plan is psychotic

The Palm is a smartphone to reduce your smartphone usage, or a small smartphone for when you don't want to carry your big smartphone. Palm itself doesn't seem sure which it is, but either way, it's a product that's so witless, we're amazed…
Mobile

Huawei and Leica’s monochrome lens is dead, so we celebrate its life

The Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro do not have a dedicated monochrome camera lens, unlike the P20 Pro, and various Huawei and Leica phones before it. It's the end of an era, and also the start of a new one, as Leica has worked on its…