Can Facebook be beaten?

I just read an interesting post over at GigaOm titled “Can Myspace be beaten?”. I’ve kept a close eye on the various social network plays over the past year since i’ve been working on a “social network aggregator” with a couple of other people. MySpace and Facebook continue to amaze me in how rapidly they have acheived mass adoption, and that too by the highly coveted teen and young adult market.

Since the guys over at GigaOm are attacking the MySpace question, I thought I’d give some insights about the Facebook question; can it be beaten by another college oriented social network?

I made my conclusion to this question a year ago when a friend and I were working on another start-up. a college oriented social network based around the buying and selling of things such as textbooks, movies, music, games, etc. One of the main reasons I decided to leave this start-up was because I firmly believed that Facebook could not be beaten since it had accumulated too much momentum. It was (and still is) amassing students at a faster rate than we could dream of ever having on our own site, and with every new student it signed up, its stranglehold on the college social network market only got more impossible to break. In hindsight, my decision to step away from the startup was a good one because Facebook has only gotten stronger: it has since raised $12.7M from one of the top VCs, it has moved into the mecca of tech that is Silicon Valley, has 75 people on its payroll, and has many more millions of users.

Regardless of all these happenings, a recent entrant named Xuqa has come onto the scene, also with VC backing, to challenge the incumbent for the throne. I still think that Facebook cannot be beaten, not because it has a better product than Xuqa (indeed Xuqa is more in tune with Web 2.0; whether this is a good or bad thing is left for another post), but because it still has too much momentum, it’s still too “cool” to be part of the Facebook craze. This however is a double-edged sword for Facebook; many college students still retain the “follow the leader” mentality that is common in highschool. If the “popular” people start to move away from Facebook, others will follow them. As Friendster can easily attest, this starts a vicious cycle in which hordes of people start migrating to the new “it” place. Perhaps this is the opening that Xuqa or some other competitor could leverage to beat Facebook. Again, I don’t expect this to happen soon, and if Facebook can add important features that create true lock-in then maybe Facebook will not be beaten. Still, I’m glad to see Xuqa at least putting up the challenge since at the end of the day, competition is usually good for the end user.

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