When I began my career at Fleishman-Hillard, there was a group in the New York office known as the "Next Great Thing." Their role within the company was to stay ahead of trends and begin developing the knowledge and tools Fleishman would need when said trends finally connected with the masses.
When smartphones starting taking off, the group decided that mobile was going to be the ongoing big thing. They changed their name to Mobile Behavior, and focused on getting really good at that.
Facebook was born out of a time when big things, or rather "next big things," were still possible. But as any military historian will tell you, large objects make the breach, and it's the men running through the wall that conquer the city.
In that sense, the next Facebook is already here, but there are a lot of them. They clambered into our feeds and handheld devices through the hole Facebook blasted in the web, and they're getting better at doing what they set out to.
The Web Doesn't Like Empires. City-States Are Easier To Work With.
So when someone asks whether a cultural phenomenon like Facebook will ever be repeated, my answer is no.
Perspective: When Facebook launched in early 2004, the iPhone was still three years away. So was the very first Amazon Kindle, which looks so rudimentary by today's standards that one could be forgiven for assuming it came with a floppy disk drive. The first iPad was a full six years away.
Even iPods, which were in their fourth iteration by then, had yet to dominate the market, still came only in white and did not support images.
Facebook is a web-based community, built for and rooted in a time when people still logged in on their computer, sitting down. Despite its flashy start as a social platform for horny college kids, a much older crowd has spurred Facebook’s largest growth in the past few years. Today, 65% of its users are seven or more years older than the man who created it.
This isn't to say that Facebook is in its twilight. It remains a force to be reckoned with. No, Facebook will lumber on for at least a few more web centuries like the sun-soaked British Empire, and after that … if they're smart (and they are), Facebook will continue to explore microcosms of expression like Instagram and Drop.io, services that succeeded by doing specific things really well.
This Is The Age Of Application
It's a noun. It is the quality of being usable for a particular purpose or in a special way. For our purposes, it's the quality of being easily understood, easily accessed, easily interacted with, and easily consumed. Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Foursquare, Rdio, Nike+ … things focused in aim and temperate in Manifest Destiny. These are the heirs to Facebook's throne, and networks like these will be the ones that come to prominence from now on.
Facebook is part of an evolution, an important part, but it shouldn't be viewed as the litmus for future developments.
The success of new contenders entering the market will rest on their ability to do little things well. The result will be a multitude of social city-states, providing a wide range of more unique, more pinpointed experiences that add up to one much larger idea.
When that happens, that will be a big thing.