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Facebook Losing Users: Is This the End Of the Social Network?

We live in a time where Facebook is nearly universal; it’s difficult for many of our generation to imagine their social lives without social networking websites. Most people only know one or two people who don’t have Facebook accounts.

In early December 2012, Facebook traffic dipped by nearly 1.4 million users. Understanding this number requires a little context: Facebook has more than 167 million users in the United States, so, in a relative sense, losing just shy of a million and a half users is nothing to be alarmed about. However, in an absolute sense, it’s like losing the entire population of San Diego in users in just one month.

Certainly all of us know at least one person within our various networks and social circles who are actively taking a break from Facebook, or deleting their profiles for a myriad of reasons.  As time goes on, I can imagine more individuals entertaining such a break at least once, if even for a limited amount of time. Given Facebook’s enormous user base, is it totally unfeasible that 1.4 million users decided to take a break all at once?

These latest numbers stand in stark contrast to Facebook just 3 years ago, when it was experiencing tremendous and consistent upward growth. Two ideas may be contributing the recent decline in Facebook’s popularity.

One of those ideas is market saturation. People taking “Facebook hiatuses” is nothing new; certainly Facebook has experienced a level of user turnover or pockets of user inactivity for some time now. A reasonable hypothesis, then, is that turnover or inactivity creates larger impacts because the influx of new users has slowed. An important idea is the possibility that Facebook has finally critically saturated its own market. Some tech experts estimate that Facebook’s social media market share may be as high as 80%, or, that 80% of users who would potentially use Facebook are already doing so. When you account for individuals who do not meet Facebook’s age restrictions (13 years and younger) and those of our grandparent’s generation who aren’t too keen on social media (65 years and older) the math ultimately only points in one direction: down.

The second factor could be the pressure to monetize. Despite Facebook offering its core user experience free of charge, as a service it must ultimately somehow generate revenue . Facebook users will have noticed recent changes aimed at generating cash: users can now pay a $7 fee to promote a specific post to more of their friends and un-promoted post visibility has been altered to increase the value of a post promoted with cash. Most recently, Facebook has been experimenting with charging users $100 to send messages directly to people outside of their “friends list.” Many Facebook users have been very vocally annoyed at the idea of mandatory usage fees for Facebook; it is not surprising that many also disapprove of the increasing prevalence of offered pay services.

As an off and on Facebook user, I have not been bothered one way or another with the increasing prevalence of ads or pay-for-service features that have been creeping into the Facebook experience. When I take a break from social networking sites it’s usually because the interactions those networks facilitate cease to be meaningful to me. In my experience, spending time with friends and family face to face is more enjoyable, more intimate, and ultimately requires you to prioritize your social life. If you’re like me, every scroll through the Facebook homepage contains at least one good reminder that everyone you know is not worth the time you would spend associating with them anyway. Given this context, trading the breadth of digital socialization for the depth of face-to-face interaction makes sense on multiple levels.

As far as I’m concerned, inflammatory photo macros or recycled memes are enough to make anyone want take a break for a little while. 

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