2011 was a big, big year for social media. From the expansion of industry veterans like Facebook and Twitter to the rise of newbies like Google+ and Pinterest, you might wonder how much time we have left for anything else! In fact, one of every five minutes we spend online is spent on a social networking site (comScore). Since the majority of that minute (75%) is Facebook, I think 2012 will continue to be led by the social network – projected to reach one billion users this year. Others will certainly have a seat at the table, but there’s only so much food to go around. That’s why I’ve based my 2012 predictions on exactly how Facebook will not only maintain its stronghold, but also continue to determine the rules of the game.

“Frictionless sharing”

This just might be the new “F” word in 2012. All Facebook users should be aware by now that the Timeline is the new Profile. It’s another change that we’ll have to get used to, but it’s really just the beginning. In addition to the large banner image and the ability to go back and see your very first Facebook post, the biggest shift is the one-time permission we can give various websites and apps – from Spotify to the Washington Post – to automatically share our activity as we go about our business. This sharing without having to think about sharing – dubbed “frictionless” – is a neat feature, but it also concerns me that the rise of sharing (see: Zuckerberg’s law) isn’t matched with the right tools to help us effectively manage the consumption.

Faster and More will get to know Smarter and Better

To the point above, Facebook will continue to improve its algorithms so that your experience is based on who and what you want to see. For instance, they recently began experimenting with grouping posts by topic. So, instead of all posts about Tim Tebow being scattered throughout your newsfeed, you can view the conversation in one place. One piece they haven’t quite figured out, though, is the ease with which users can segment their network. While they allow you to create lists, it’s very cumbersome if you didn’t create them from the beginning. I’ve heard from a lot of people recently that their posts don’t seem to be showing up in their friends’ newsfeeds – either their posts aren’t very good or it’s an increasingly cluttered space. It’d be great if your posts showed up better when selecting a more restricted audience – for example, “close friends.” That might go against Facebook’s MO, but I bet it’d get people to use lists more. And more, you might not have to even mess with niche social networks like LinkedIn.

Ubiquity

Facebook’s rise from a social network for college cliques to a powerhouse for users all of ages and geographies can be attributed to spreading its wings without getting homesick. Facebook is not a website. It has gradually become the social layer of the Internet. And I think this will enter our offline worlds as well. For instance, the more Facebook can help me find and connect with the right people (who I don’t already know, but are already connected to my friends) and can help fulfill any needs I may have (from fashion and recipes to wedding and fitness advice) the better. The “subscribe” button is a step in the right direction, but I think connecting should have more of a contextual layer. Perhaps the solution is partially mobile since we so often seek solutions while we’re out and about. Making it easier for people to express their situation or story will help, too – so that Facebook serves up serendipity. The new Gestures will certainly enhance this. Because we have established our network through Facebook, we’ll see more and more opportunities for leveraging that – making everything social (or more social). This will play out in the way we watch television (more actively), attend events, fly commercial airplanes, and network at industry events (a stretch, but fun at the same time).

“Thefacebook” was created by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004. As the original interface indicates, the site was only available for Harvard University students, The interface also featured the image of a man’s face in the upper left hand corner – a digitally manipulated photo of Al Pacino.

IPO

There’s a lot of speculation that Facebook might go public sometime in the second quarter of this year. If so, the reported $100 billion valuation and $10 billion raise would put Facebook in the top-three American IPOs for highest amounts raised. However, if LinkedIn and Zynga are any indication, the valuation could be completely inflated and spell trouble for – and increased pressure from – investors. It will be interesting to see how this nimble company can remain so adaptable as it grows and shifts ownership. Oh, and Zuckerberg is hoping his employees don’t cash out and leave like Google’s did back in 2004.

Photos

As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, photos are an essential piece of the Facebook experience – 250 million of them are uploaded to the site every day. Not only that, Facebook photos represent 4% of all photos ever taken. Hopefully, this is the year Facebook adds some much-needed features for photos. There’s just so much more that can be done with photos than uploading, sharing and downloading them. Adding even a fraction of the capabilities offered through sites like Picnik and apps like Instagram would delight users and get them to spend even more time on the site.

Mobile

You can’t really talk about digital media without mentioning the impact mobile devices will have. Research shows that, in two years, mobile devices will account for over 50% of web traffic. Not only that, mobile Facebook users are twice as active on the platform (according to their CTO). In order to capitalize on that, I think Facebook will go beyond offering just a mobile version of their site. For instance, it’d be cool to adjust the newsfeed to friends’ updates who are closest to you or even at the same place – some you might want to see, and others you might want to avoid. It’ll also be interesting to see how Facebook’s acquisition of Gowalla – a location-based social network – will play out. Surely, we’ll be able to tell enriched stories about places we’ve gone or want to go.

Dislike button

OK, real quick. I’d love to see Facebook add “dislike” and “meh” options to complement the ubiquitous “like” button. Just because.

To the delight of some and the chagrin of others, Facebook will change often throughout this year. There’s too much at stake for them not to. They’ll be as good as they are innovative, coming out with features that its users didn’t even know they wanted (sound familiar?) and adaptive – pruning the features that aren’t used or in line with the mission of the company – to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” The simpler the better, in my opinion.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything-Facebook, from reactions to the new Timeline to your own ideas for improvement.

Happy new year!