“The step after ubiquity is invisibility,” my old friend from Apple Al Mandel explained to me years ago. And it’s true. Telephone service was once rare but is now universal and anything truly universal eventually become a commodity. No wonder phone companies no longer make money from long-distance calling nor — as Verizon’s sale of its New England landlines business confirms — even make enough money from local phone service. Now it is all about mobile and thank God for texting and ringtones, the telco execs say… for awhile. Well I think the same thing is about to happen to Facebook — privacy issues or no.

Facebook is huge with 350 million members but that’s not the problem. The problem is that my Facebook friends list is too long and so is yours. I have 809 Facebook friends. My wife has friend envy because she thinks my friends are generally more interesting than her friends. I wouldn’t know because I’m only on Facebook once or twice a week for a few minutes. But even that’s enough to know my friend list is too long.

Here’s what happened the other day. I had some news about the Startup Tour so I shared it on Facebook and looked for reaction from my 809 friends.

Nothing happened.

Well not nothing, but not much. I couldn’t immediately see my own post, for example, because in the time it took for me to go from writing it to reading it the post had scrolled off my screen, pushed out by generally inane people saying generally inane things about generally inane stuff I didn’t care about. That’s the downside of having 809 friends.

This didn’t happen when I had 350 Facebook friends. Then I’d write something important to me (I only write important things in Facebook and you should, too) and dozens of people would reply. But now they don’t because my screen is scrolling too fast and their screens are scrolling too fast, too, so the actual opportunity for intercourse (you know what I mean — get your mind out of the gutter) is nothing. It’s gone.

Facebook is useless to me. We’re all too connected to really connect.

Yes, I hide all the Mafia warriors and the Farmers and those people lately who are so thrilled to be breeding weird little animals. I hide as many of my inane friends as I can. I don’t join any groups and I am a fan of nothing, but it still doesn’t matter. There are people whom I’d actually like to know what they are doing and maybe they care about me, too, but we just no longer meet-up.

Facebook is being really stupid lately about making money from its traffic by violating user privacy. If the system goes kerblooey then pundits will point to that and say, “They abused their users, see.” But that won’t be true. Fans are used to being abused. How else do you explain Metallica?

If Facebook goes under it will be because of its own success. If Facebook doesn’t go under it will be because they learned in the nick of time the same lessons as every other successful serial publisher since the dawn of printing — that there is an ideal circulation size to monetize a given advertising base and you can easily get too big to make any money.

In this case there turns out to be a corollary effect that says you can be too big to be useful to your readers, too, which is why Facebook’s demise — if it happens — will be so swift.

If Facebook really wants to get profitable it needs to get smaller by kicking-off users who don’t make it money. Then it has to be be really nice to the ones they keep.

Their alternative is ubiquity, invisibility, then failure.

My bet’s on failure.