Facebook Will Rule the Web During the Next Decade

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel
We're at the very beginning of a major shift in how we find, consume and interact with information. If the 2000s was the Google decade, then the 2010s will be the Facebook decade. As with the last 10 years, this era will unleash an avalanche of change for media companies and advertisers. You can see the writing on the wall, pun intended.

According to Compete.com, Facebook recently became the top source of traffic to major sites such as Yahoo and MSN, surpassing Google. Hitwise said that Facebook is the fourth leading traffic driver to news sites.

Nielsen reported that in January, U.S. consumers spent a staggering seven hours a month on Facebook -- more than three and a half times the time spent on Yahoo, which ranked second in attention.

Finally, while still tiny compared to Google, search queries on Facebook climbed 13% in January, according to ComScore.

Social networking is still largely thought of as a new genre of sites that help us forge stronger relationships with the people we care about. That's true. But as we increasingly spend more time on these hubs, it's clear that we are also slowly using these sites for everyday online activities such as e-mail, instant messaging, reading news, search and shopping. What's more, the social glue adds value to what, to date, have largely been more solitary experiences.

Some savvy companies recognize this and are jumping in. For example, 1-800-Flowers allows Facebook users to browse and buy arrangements without having to leave its fan page. The Associated Press syndicates the full text of blog posts on its Facebook page and is using Twitter to encourage people to click over. This allows the wire service to build relationships with readers. Arguably, this is something it hasn't been able to easily do before.

In the months and years ahead, Facebook will continue to beef up core features such as e-mail and search. Some of this it will do on its own. (It is reportedly working on a robust new e-mail client called Titan.) Other pieces it will assemble through its partnership with Microsoft's Bing. However, social connections, data and algorithms will make all of these everyday experiences more powerful.

Meanwhile, Google is trying to achieve the same thing but with mixed results. The hiccups it went through with Google Buzz, its nascent social effort, show it's much harder to take core apps and make them social rather than trying to bolt utility into an existing social network.

So, yes, Facebook is slowly devouring the web. And while the social network has plenty of critics and it runs into the occasional privacy concerns, it will dominate. In fact, I see it becoming the No. 1 website in the world in less than three years.

What does this mean? Websites will become less important over time. They will be primarily transactional and/or utilitarian. Brands will shift more of their dollars and resources to creating a robust presence where people already are and figure out how to use them to build relationships. Media companies will do the same -- they will be increasingly "headless."

Get ready for a new web. It's big, it's blue, and it's social.

Steve Rubel is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
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