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Home / Industry / Infotech /  Lifestage: Is Facebook facing an identity crisis?

Is Facebook Inc. facing an identity crisis? What else could explain why the social networking company launched a stand-alone app for teenagers which does not require a Facebook account. The app called Lifestage is for those under 21, created by a 19-year-old product manager, and sounds more like an insurance product targeting seniors rather than a cool and hip app meant for high schoolers.

Facebook has a jaw-dropping digital footprint, with more than 1.13 billion daily users, its photo-sharing app Instagram growing with 500 million monthly active users, and popular messaging app WhatsApp with 1 billion users. Why would it then need to launch a new app, that too for a demographic that it has not hitherto targeted?

The answer probably lies in Lifestage’s raison d’etre, as explained by Michael Sayman, the teen whiz kid and Facebook’s product manager: “Lifestage allows people to build a profile made up entirely of video fields. It allows them to show others who they are and to find out more about the people in their school community as well as meet new people. Lifestage looks back at the days of Facebook from 2004 and explores what can be done if we went back and turned the crank all the way forward to 2016 with video-first. Back in 2004, Facebook was all about “who I am". I could post my relationship status. I could share what my favourite music was. And it was all about expressing myself. Today as Facebook has grown into so much more, we see the opportunity to explore that concept of “who I am" once again, but for Generation Z in 2016."

While this certainly aligns with Zuckerberg’s plan to transition his website into a more video-centric network, it is the first time that the company has rolled out an app aimed at Generation Z, (the post-millennial generation), that is emerging as the next big market for advertisers and marketers. With the oldest members of this group barely out of high school, these tweens and teens of today are primed to become the dominant youth influencers of tomorrow.

Facebook is the most widely used social networking site and according to a forecast by eMarketer, it will remain the dominant social network by a wide margin through at least 2020. In 2016 alone, 162.9 million US Internet users will log on to the site at least once a month, while Facebook-owned Instagram, the second-most-used social network, will have 89.4 million US users this year. “Facebook remains the king of social networks, and the usage increases are coming primarily from people who are Generation X and older," said eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson. “Plenty of teens and young adults still use Facebook, but growth is slowing in these groups."

Lifestage is then designed to capture the waning teen crowd that has been flocking to rival apps like Snapchat and Twitter. The Internet industry research firm, comScore, reports that more than 60% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 38 years are Snapchat users. “Lifestage is then another attempt by Facebook to gain back users from Snapchat," says Anshoo Nandwaani, vice-president and principal analyst, Greyhound Research.

An earlier attempt was ‘Stories’ by Facebook-owned Instagram. “Instagram Stories" allowed users to post as many photos and videos in a slideshow format, which disappeared after 24 hours much like Snapchat’s My Story.

“Secondly, Snapchat’s user base is mainly teenagers, while Facebook’s user base is now increasingly middle-aged individuals. Teens are increasingly becoming significant users of video content (Snapchat is testimony). This is why Facebook’s strategy of making Lifestage a video-based app, aimed only at teenagers to interact freely with other students from their college, away from prying eyes of adults and interference by parents (unlike Facebook)," says Nandwaani.

Like Facebook in 2004, Lifestage will be rolled out on a school-by-school basis. By default, all schools start locked and as soon as 20 people sign up for any particular school, the school unlocks.

Here is how it works:

• Build a profile by adding videos to fields of the things you like, the things you don’t, how you do things, and more.

• Discover others who are into the same things you are into and connect with them.

• Share to dozens of fields in various sections of your profile such as “Music", “Home" and “School".

• Change out and replace your videos in fields at any moment, as often as you like.

However, Nandwaani cautions about some grey areas which one needs to watch out for. “The Sign Up process asks the user to specify which college they belong to. While One User – One College check is in place, there is currently no process in place to verify if the student is actually enrolled in the stated college. Also, as of now, there are no Privacy Controls in the app. After successful signup, the app will broadcast all updates from a user’s profile, with no screening or control."

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