Social networking went mainstream thanks to MySpace – most teens and many tech savvy people of all ages began using the site before rivals like Facebook had even hit the web. Today MySpace has been vastly outpaced by Facebook in user numbers.
Facebook's user base is ballooning in the U.S. and around the world with teens to older adults flocking to the service to keep in touch with family, friends and meet new people. Reuters reports that some believe that Facebook is close to achieving "technological lock in" of its dominance. Technological lock in is the idea that as society gets used to using technology, users are less and less likely to switch technologies.
UCLA student Alyssa Ravasio told Reuters, "I think Facebook is the most valuable Internet commodity in existence, more so than Google, because they are positioning themselves to be our online identity via Facebook connect." She continued saying, "It's your real name, it's your real friends, and assuming they manage to navigate the privacy quagmire, they're poised to become your universal login," she said. "I would almost argue that Facebook is the new mobile phone. It's the new thing you need to keep in touch, almost a requirement of modern social life."
One example of a technological lock in that Reuters cites is something that most of us will be familiar with -- the QWERTY keyboard. People have stuck with QWERTY layout since it was invented in the 1870's despite alternative layouts for keyboards that some feel are superior.
According to Comscore, Facebook had 112 million unique visitors in the U.S. in December compared to the 57 million MySpace visitors and 20 million for Twitter. A technological lock in is not guaranteed for Facebook though. UCLA professor of communications studies Tim Groeling said, "It's their [Facebook's] game to lose at this point."
Facebook could lose users if it continues to anger its user base with sudden sweeping changes along the lines of the changes it recently made to its privacy settings. The changes were a way for Facebook to get more traffic in the ramp up to monetize the site.
Ravasio warns, "All these [internet] companies saying they'll figure out how to monetize later seem to be forgetting that 'monetizing' has historically always meant a degradation of user experience quality."