Yes, you heard it here first – Facebook will die! This may be in a year’s time; perhaps we learn that Facebook is a money-laundering operation for the Mafia. Or it may be discovered that many of the Facebook groups and photo-sharing services are used for pornography. Or maybe the Facebook owners get bored or decide that social networks are unhealthy for society and so shut it down (after all Stanley Kubric chose to ban showings of Clockwork Orange in the 1970s after accusations that it was responsible for copycat violence).

Or maybe Facebook dies after MySpace responds to the threat to its core business which Facebook is providing by opening up its APIs and succeeds in regaining lost ground.

Or maybe Bebo will surprise everyone by trumping Facebook I’ve heard people say that it is growing in popularity and maybe institutions will find that the large numbers of registered Facebook users include many dormant accounts as users move away from a service which becomes increasingly institutionalised.
And maybe it takes 10, 20, 50, … years for Facebook to die.

Should this worry us? And how should we respond to such scenarios, even if some of them are pretty unlikely?

My view is that we do need to carry out such risk assessment. But we also need to take a similar approach to the things we do normally including in-house developments or developments work funded by public sector bodies.

Let’s acknowledge the risks that in-house development work could potentially not be sustainable if the project developer leaves. Similarly project funded work may result in software which may be left to rot on SourceForge. And even services provided by the government may not be sustainable, not because the government will go out of business, but because of government reorganisation (as we’ve seen recently following Gordon Brown’s move to number 10 and subsequent changes to his Cabinet).

Yes, services will rise and fall. And we have to have mechanisms in place to cater for this. But let’s remember that this can also happen to the services we develop and may care about today. And we have seen this recently in the UK HE sector, following the AHRB’s decision to cease funding the AHDS and the JISC’s response that it cannot afford to fund AHDS on its own.

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