As if the IPO fumble and lawsuit pile-on weren't a couple black eyes for Facebook, now comes an insult even more wounding: People are just bored with the social network.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll counted 34% of its users slacking off, compared with six months ago.
The most frequent Facebook users are aged 18 to 34, according to the survey, with 60 percent of that group being daily users. Among people aged 55 years and above, 29 percent said they were daily users. Of the 34 percent spending less time on the social network, their chief reason was that the site was "boring," "not relevant" or "not useful." Privacy concerns ranked third. (June 4, Reuters)
Wait, wouldn't that mean people are bored with their friends? Is it really more IPO letdown? Could the introverts be rebelling? Or is it all of the above? Let's check out the status updates and a few reader comments along the way, and see whether the Facebook beatdown can get any worse (hint: It does).
Too many friends who aren't really. How bored could 901 million active users be? About 526 million of them check in daily—but apparently 2 out of 5 sign in, versus 1 out of 2 just six months ago. Just like most social circles, power users dominate the crowd; people ages 23-35 and women (especially new moms and stressed-out ones) update and comment the most. The rest are occasional spectators—and a good number of them seem to be suffering friend-request regret.
The average number of Facebook friends is 245, but Dunbar's number dictates that your little gray cells can usually track only around 150. Compare that neurological optimism with a sociologist's survey, which claims that the modern Americans can count 2.03 close friends, a decline from three in 1985. (Pew gives happier odds with 2.16 close pals, versus 1.93 in 2008.)
Then there's the backlash against ruthless cheeriness, embodied in one Texas teacher's mission to show life's complexities by making an EnemyGraph Facebook plug-in. Add the 3.2 million people petitioning for a "dislike" button, complaints about inanity updates, the extra work that the Timeline feature demands, and fears about privacy (which led many to fall for a hoax), and Facebook isn't as friendly as it used to be. The social network even capitulated by releasing Close Friends and Acquaintances features, so you can downgrade (or upgrade) friends; you can also reduce the number of people whose actions show up in your news feed.
Revenge for making us feel lonely? Might we resent Facebook for a cruel self-assessment of friendship? The Atlantic recently took a shot at social networking for making people feel "lonelier" and "more narcissistic," and it zeroed in on Mark Zuckerberg's Frankenstein child.
Facebook users had slightly lower levels of "social loneliness"—the sense of not feeling bonded with friends—but "significantly higher levels of family loneliness"—the sense of not feeling bonded with family. It may be that Facebook encourages more contact with people outside of our household, at the expense of our family relationships—or it may be that people who have unhappy family relationships in the first place seek companionship through other means, including Facebook. The researchers also found that lonely people are inclined to spend more time on Facebook: "One of the most noteworthy findings," they wrote, "was the tendency for neurotic and lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals." And they found that neurotics are more likely to prefer to use the wall, while extroverts tend to use chat features in addition to the wall. (May 2012, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" The Atlantic)
Debunkers pooh-pooh the idea of Facebook as a digital divider, and instead see it a tool that individuals control.
Such technological connections don't at all preclude real-life conversations. If we're not having them, it's because that's our choice—the technology isn't choosing for us... But then some people suggest that because these ways are different than what they are used to, they are automatically worse. That's where the problems begin. Different doesn't automatically equal bad, and without quantifiable measures, all you have is a subjective lens in which to conduct your measurements. (June 7, Psych Central)
Then again, behavioral changes happen quickly over a generation. Consider the evolution of telephone etiquette: At first, the caller bore the social burden. After the onset of the answering machine, the obligation landed on the recipient to return the call. With cell phones, a new generation feels compelled to answer the ring, granting a higher privilege to the unseen caller over any live body in their presence. (Note the retaliatory warning notices at retail counters that say they will ignore people on their cell phones—it's quid pro quo.) Many teens can't resist the call even while driving, to the point that some welcome state laws making it illegal for teens to use their phones while they're behind the wheel.
Facebook has unleashed all sorts of etiquette dilemmas (is ignoring a friend request polite, or is it a passive-aggressive slippery slope?), and disgruntled users claim they're already resulting in cultural traits—like narcissism, per the Atlantic.
Facebook 2020 funeral? After all these slaps to Facebook, the only thing left would be spit on the corpse... and sure enough, a Forbes columnist obliges with predictions of its death in five to eight years. (Full disclosure: Columnist Eric Jackson also beats up on Yahoo! regularly, calls it "already a shell of its 2000 self," and owns some shares.)
Facebook is the triumphant winner of social companies. It will go public in a few weeks and probably hit $140 billion in market capitalization. Yet, it loses money in mobile and has rather simple iPhone and iPad versions of its desktop experience. It is just trying to figure out how to make money on the web—as it only had $3.7 billion in revenues in 2011 and its revenues actually decelerated in Q1 of this year relative to Q4 of last year. It has no idea how it will make money in mobile. (April 30, Forbes)
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