The avalanche of anonymous and semi-anonymous apps are making the giants of Silicon Valley nervous. Facebook who has always stood for the true identity of individuals is now desperately courting the several anonymous startups that are flooding Silicon Valley. Most of the apps are being used by teenagers who are trying to escape their parent’s online gaze.
Here’s the simple thing that Facebook apparently doesn’t understand: Teenagers will grow up.
When I was a teenager we didn’t have smartphones, but we had America Online. AOL was king in the early and mid 90s. When you signed up, you created a screen name, which basically made you anonymous to the world. You could tell your friends who you were, but you didn’t have to. You could also have multiple screenames, thus you could be online anonymously. It was exhilarating to visit chat rooms anonymously, to be free from the online gaze of our confused parents. But then one thing happened a few years later, MySpace became popular.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to be known. But still, fake accounts were easily created. Then Facebook was born. Facebook was exclusive and it was cool. Plus, it made it harder for people to create fake accounts. Everyone wanted to be part of it. Everyone wanted to be known and be real online. Anonymity was dead. But as Facebook grew, so did its generation. All of a sudden, those of us who thought we were cool and hip by joining Facebook are now becoming the “old people.”
Now, a new generation of teenagers wants to explore anonymity, much like my generation did. The main difference now is that they have smartphones and apps. Instead of AOL chatrooms and screen names, they have things like Whisper or Secret, or Snapchat. Yes, these apps allow for them to do much more than my generation could, but the undercurrent sentiment is the same.
But guess what? These teenagers are going to grow up soon, too. In a few years, they will want to be known. If a guy likes a girl in one of his classes and wants to know more about her before making a move, where will he do so? Anonymous apps won’t help him with that one. While Instagram may provide a window into someone’s life, it is essentially incomplete (Yes, I know that FB owns Instagram). Apps like Vine and Instagram don’t and can’t tell the whole story. Only a platform like Facebook allows for people to express more of themselves.
Therefore, in a few years, these teenagers obsessed with anonymity will grow up and want others to know them and their accomplishments. And guess what? They will share those things on Facebook, or they will share them on the next Facebook. What will that next Facebook be? I’m not sure, but I know it won’t be an anonymous app. So what Facebook needs to worry about is how to stay relevant so that there won’t be a next Facebook. In other words, Facebook needs to be the next Facebook. Zuckerberg needs to stop chasing the next fad hoping to cash in on the current trend and focus on the company’s long-term viability. A CEO needs to do what best for the company’s survival and NOT what seems to be the current trend.
Facebook should focus on fixing issues with its current algorithm, especially when it comes to its business pages. Let the kids have the anonymous apps. They will grow up, eventually.