Is this the beginning of the end for Facebook?

Some reactions to the new version of Facebook, March 2009.
Some reactions to the new version of Facebook, March 2009.

Things aren’t looking good for Facebook right now. The new changes have had some pretty fierce negative reactions. Take a look at the comments on the Facebook blog for a sampling of the current mood amongst Facebook users.

Of course negative comments to change are often far from being representative. Whenever a social platform makes significant changes it always kicks off a wave of negative reaction, and then usually settles down into calm acceptance. This was certainly the case with the last Facebook update in 2008.

However, this time it’s different. As many commentators have noticed, these changes are pretty obviously a response to Twitter’s recent phenomenal growth. This is the first time we’ve seen Facebook on the defensive, the first time that Facebook has been reactive rather than proactive. And that’s not a good sign.

Facebook still has a huge edge over Twitter – some estimates suggest over 120 million users worldwide. No-one knows Twitter’s global audience yet, but with 7 million in the US it’s likely to be less than 10 million globally.

Nevertheless Twitter is growing fast, and the balance of power has a habit of changing rapidly in the social networking space. As Steve Rubel has pointed out, historically only a few community sites have had any staying power.

Whether this is the beginning of the end for Facebook is too early to say, but we can be sure that the social networking space is going to look very different at the end of 2009 to how it did at the start.