Facebook started as a “collegiate social network” (Atal, 2007). In May 2007 it abandoned the college niche and opened its doors to everyone. ComScore noted that “71% of users are now outside the college age-bracket” (Atal, 2007). There’s no doubt that the move significantly increased the membership in the network, but is their decision to open to the public undisputedly for the better?
Facebook made its mark by focusing on a college niche. Their decision to veer away from this market could have serious consequences to the network.
One trade off is between size and significance. A niche encourages specific, familiar and private network. “Student-exclusive networks provide users with a sense of importance: It’s easy to become a big fish in a small, students-only pond” (Atal, 2007). It gives them the feeling of belonging; of being a part of a community they can call their own. It connects them to people they can relate to. While membership is limited to a specific class of people, size is compensated by closer and more meaningful interaction between the members.
The downside is, applications are also restricted to the interests of the niche market.
Public networks on the other hand can reach more people. A diverse crowd needs varied things, thus they have bigger room for improvement and development. They are not limited to specific programs, interests or advertisements. By shifting to a public social network, Facebook got rid of its boundaries. It opened its doors to serve more people. It embraced an opportunity for growth.
One of the issues raised is the reaction of the original members to the upgrade. “Facebook has such a strong hold on the college social networking market” (Atal, 2007). The change in focus market did not seem to affect the support of students. Original members remained loyal to Facebook despite the change.
Going from a niche to a public network is a new ballgame for Facebook. They are up against giant networks. They need to perform on a higher level. They have to create a niche amidst the league of giants in order to stay on top.
Leaving their niche opened opportunities for new networks to step in. CollegeOTR.com, CollegeTonight.com, and CollegeWikis.com are three of the websites that are likely to benefit from this. Capitalizing on the niche left by Facebook, these network aim to create networks that are “as specific as they could be” (Atal, 2007).
Facebook’s decision to abandon the college niche and upgrade to a public social network is beneficial to Facebook. It offered opportunity for growth without alienating the original members. While the focus expanded to include everyone interested in joining the community, they can still serve the need for smaller communities by developing applications suited for this purpose.
By upgrading to a public social network, Facebook put an end to the competition between Facebook and other college networks and paved the way for collaboration. One example of this successful partnership as mentioned in the article is the SuperWall (Atal, 2007). CollegeWikis.com sponsored Superwall, a Facebook “application where users post college-specific information that is instantly communicated to the virtual message walls of other registered users at their college” (Atal, 2007). Collaborations like this not only promote cooperation among the networks but also present the best of both worlds to the users.
Facebook gave up its niche market to give way to improved service, diverse membership and better partnership with other networks. The decision positioned the company to serve more people, produce more products and services well into the future.
Atal, Maja. (2007, August 8). Facebook Faces Up. Businessweek, 1-2.