Facebook: The beginning of the end?

Remember how a year or so ago, all those advertisers jumped on the ‘user generated content’ bandwagon and, regularly, got their fingers burned.

Once Facebook opened up, it was only a matter of time before those same advertisers began to turn their attention to the network and see if it could form communities among like-minded brand afficionados. Some have created apps; some have created groups.

BW cars reporter, Stuart Schwartzapfel, points me to an example of the latter, from Mazda, which has formed the Mazda Design Challenge group. It calls for Facebook users to submit visions of the Mazda3 of the future (NB: you have to be a Facebook member to access the page.)

Here's the deal: ten semifinalists will be picked by Mazda judges; those entries will be honed by an inhouse designer and then will be showcased on Facebook, with other users getting to vote for their favorite. The winner gets $1,000, a trip to the LA Auto show -- and the transformation of their idea into concept model, also to be displayed by Mazda at the show. So far, the group has 1,800 members.

There are a few interesting things to note here. Firstly, Mazda is smart to be clear about the set up of the competition. As long as it follows through and delivers on its promises, this could be a great feel-good marketing/branding exercise.

Secondly, is this the beginning of the end for Facebook? Now that the advertisers are in there, and now that there's seemingly no security or privacy any more, what's so cool or community spirited about the network any more?

It was interesting to observe the evolution of our intern in this respect. Maha was a huge fan of Facebook when she arrived at BusinessWeek earlier this summer, even being so kind as to give me a demonstration and a run-through, excitedly showing me all these great things I should be doing. She wrote a number of pieces analyzing Facebook and its business model too -- including one we haven't published yet, about how she's totally over Facebook.

Call her fickle youth if you will, but she's smart, tuned in, and entirely representative of Facebook's core support. She's back at Brown now, and reports that Facebook's popularity is definitely down: "There's definitely more emailing and phone-calling going on among college students than there was in the Facebook heydey," she writes. "My prediction is that it crashes and burns by 2012, when technology will probably have changed enough to produce something newer and hipper."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.