"Here's a fun fact: Like every other online community before it and every one after it, Facebook will eventually lose favor with its users and wither. Will it reach a billion users? Maybe, but probably not."
--From "Fun facts about Facebook's half-billion users" Comments
Comments on articles and articles themselves prophesying the demise of Facebook from the Internet like 6-Degrees and MySpace before it are as common as articles prophesying the imminent demise of a certain Cupertino-based computer company. However, there's one element of the page linked above that puts the lie to this prophecy: the button at the top of the comments section that reads "Connect with Facebook" (02Feb2012: and the now ubiquitous "like" button, which is slightly outside the scope of this essay, but must be acknowledged).
Facebook is no longer just a social networking site, it's become an Internet Utility* a la Google for search, iTunes for music, or Amazon for books (and music, and even the kitchen sink). It's become the Kleenex or Vaseline of social networking sites, much to the chagrin of those who didn't figure it out (see above) and those who just can't get it right (Google+ what's up). For awhile now people have been pushing for a universal login a la OpenID, but that lacked the right PR, the right spice, and it didn't also come with pictures of old High School friends that make you feel bad about yourself. Facebook has all of those things, and it enables you to log in somewhere to post comments without having to remember another password. How much longer before you can pay for a "Facebook Premium" login that guarantees your security and rivals PayPal for online payments? I think it's coming (02Feb2012: Facebook Credits, anyone?).
The user base for Facebook is going to continue to grow (02Feb2012: and has) because you can "Like" articles and sites, and just as the MacWorld article above demonstrates, who wouldn't want to simply click a button that confirms their Facebook login (mmm, cookies) to comment on an article rather than having to deal with the hassle of registering on that site, and then remembering that password. Why not just have one login to rule them all?
Personally, in the realm of website comments I'm all for it and I'm willing to bet a shiny James K. Polk Presidential Dollar that a significantly greater number than 500 million people will be, too (02Feb2012: 800 million+ if we're talking about all Facebook users). Now before you get your privacy knickers in a twist, I recognize the need for anonymity on the Internet, and I also recognize the danger inherent in centralizing all that information about yourself, which is why I'm glad this sort of thing exists for rival sites like Twitter, Google+, etc. I can think of any number of ways to anonymize yourself even using a Facebook login to post comments on articles, or do other things online (pay for stuff, see above), and it's up to us to make sure that we're never in a situation where such a thing becomes a problem.
The 18 months that have transpired since I originally published this essay have only strengthened my point, and with a looming IPO, the reality is that Facebook isn't going anywhere anytime soon. There's no reason it can't be used responsibly and there's every reason for us to remain vigilant and ready to call foul every time they do something stupid, but there's no use in wishing it away or ignoring it completely, because just like you blow your nose with a Kleenex, and you Google something on the Internet, soon you'll Facebook something or other.
*Has this been coined? I want credit if it hasn't.