It’s also possible that even the craziest speculators are still undervaluing Facebook’s ultimate worth. That’s where a media theorist like me can venture an opinion — and I’d have to say no, they’re not. Facebook is certainly the best of the social media apps to come along, just as Google was the best search engine. Similarly, however, the social media playpen constituted by Facebook is temporary. Just as we are moving away from Web search into a world of applications running on smartphones, we will move away from our single Web-based social media platform toward more ad-hoc social apps on our handheld devices.
It’s hard for us to imagine right now, but we won’t be logging into Facebook to find out what’s going on; we’ll work and play in an ecology of apps that tell us where people are and what they are doing.
Yes, Facebook may have a role in that next-generation social media universe, but it will need what tech industry people like to call “a second act.” Apple’s second act is the iPhone. Google is hoping for “augmented reality” eyeglasses and network-controlled automobiles.
Facebook’s second act is far from clear. It wants to become the platform on which everybody else builds social media apps. But if all this activity is happening on smartphones, then Facebook is dangerously dependent on Android and iPhone for everything, a layer on top of Apple and Google’s systems. Facebook’s inability to generate income on the smartphone has led to some desperate moves, such as its billion-dollar acquisition of photo-sharing app Instagram and off-putting products like “sponsored stories.”