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Business - Written by on Friday, January 8, 2010 13:01 - 6 Comments

Tim Bevins
Age lines on Facebook?

Is Facebook fading in importance, in particular among the very people who used to be its target market: college students and recent graduates?

I had a beer with my 25-year-old daughter Jen and Laura, her friend from high school, before seeing a performance of The Nutcracker in mid-December. I mentioned something about Facebook, and was surprised by their animosity toward the site. They both agree that they did not like what it is (too serious, a soapbox for self-promotion, populated by arrogant and self-absorbed Gen Ys) and missed what it was (fun and a safe way to meet people in college, a closed community). They both also did not like that it was now a place for parents – yes, me – to go. (Note: My daughter has friended me but 21-year-old son says he won’t.)

Their perspective is, of course, is easily dismissed as useless information because it is entirely anecdotal. I personally know other people in their 20s and 30s who do use it and share enormous amounts of information and photos.

And Facebook Statistics clearly don’t support the notion that it is fading in importance, even among younger people: 350 million members, each with an average of 130 friends, 8 friend requests per month, and 3 event invitations per month. Facebook crossed the 200 million member mark in April 2009, so membership has increased by 75% in some nine months or by more than 16 million members per month. Facebook has more than 101 million members in the US as of December 31, 2009, and according to CheckFacebook.com, of the 95 million US members it had as of November 3, 2009, slightly more than 50% are between the ages of 18 and 34. Facebook is growing overseas as well but numbers in any country are dwarfed by US membership, with the UK coming in a distant second with some 22.6 million members. The largest growth rates over the last 12 months are in the Philippines (2046.8% growth), Indonesia (1536.7% growth), and Thailand (1063.8% growth).

Nevertheless, there seems to be some increasing disillusionment with Facebook, though I know of no definitive trend in any age group that has been reported, other than among members 55 and older, whose ranks diminished by some 600,000 in April and May 2009. Type “Facebook sucks” into the Google rectangle and “about 19,600,000″ results show up. (This is so unscientific I won’t even make a claim about validity.) But there are also some thoughtful, reasoned articles about quitting Facebook that intrigued me:

  • Carmen Joy King at Adbusters: “The amount of time I spent on Facebook had pushed me into an existential crisis. It wasn’t the time-wasting, per se, that bothered me. It was the nature of the obsession – namely self-obsession. Enough was enough. I left Facebook.”
  • Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times writes about friends quitting: “If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word.”
  • Singer Lily Allen, quoted by Anita Singh at showbusiness.com: “I just had this revelation that Facebook, blogging, all those things were becoming a total addiction. I’d be with my boyfriend or my mum and they’d have just got half of me. So I put my BlackBerry, my laptop, my iPod in a box and that’s the end . . . We’ve ended up in this world of unreal communications and I don’t want that. I want real life back.”
  • Hannah VanderPoel at North by Northwestern, a Northwestern University online publication: “Ultimately, my own self-prescribed hiatus from Facebook was fueled by three factors. One was to rid my life of unnecessary distraction, mostly in an attempt to finish my homework. The second was the hope of re-learning how to socialize in ways that don’t involve typing public messages to profile avatars that serve as pixeled representations of real people. Thirdly, it was the desire to regain the sense of personal privacy that I surrendered three years ago when I first created my account –- a move that I am retrospectively thankful for, given the controversy surrounding the site’s privacy policies (or lack thereof).”
  • Boston University sophomore Brendan Gauthier: “I couldn’t justify the amount of time I was spending — no, wasting — on it. Why was I looking through my friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s sorority sister’s photo albums? I didn’t even know this person, yet I could tell you what she did last weekend. . . . At what point are we willing to sacrifice real friendships for convenience? Since giving up Facebook, I’ve called my high school friends, and our conversations are much more gratifying than three words on our wall-to-wall.”

So, my questions are: Do you know people who have quit Facebook? Are you thinking about quitting yourself?



6 Comments

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Jaclyn
Jan 8, 2010 14:37

I’m 31 and I love Facebook. A lot of my family, friends and co-workers are on it. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant when my mom joined. But of course I friended her – I just made sure to delete the previous day’s status update where I talked about having cosmopolitans and cheese & crackers for dinner and called it “the dinner of champions.” Of course, now, with the new privacy controls, I could set posts like that to not be visible to her. :)

Anyway, I think it’s a great way to stay in touch, but not as a replacement for real-life communication. When my husband and I went on vacation last summer, I was able to post some photos of our trip while we were still there, and read comments from friends & family about them.

Once, while I was on a trip for work, I posted a status update saying what town I was in. It turned out that my husband’s aunt lived nearby (I didn’t know she was so close), and she saw my status, and sent me an email inviting me over for dinner. That wouldn’t have happened without Facebook, because I normally don’t call up everyone I know to tell them when I’m going somewhere.

Tim
Jan 12, 2010 11:05

Thanks, Jacklyn. I just received a note via Facebook from a former colleague who writes, “FB has been great to reconnect with so many friends wishing us well.” It does have the power to keep people in touch with one another across miles and across changes in jobs and careers as well.
I also saw this today from eMarketer and it definitely indicates young people are driving FB membership up: “The largest gain came from males ages 18 to 25, followed by women 26 to 34. Despite the already-large base of users under 35, those groups also posted the highest rates of growth. Increases in usage among older users, which was relatively stronger earlier in 2009, had slowed.” http://tinyurl.com/ya82m5m
As I said, my “evidence” is anecdotal, but, for what it’s worth, I pay attention to what my Gen Y children say and think, if for no other reason than to see whether they are in the mainstream for that group or not.

Pierre Bouchard INDICO » Facebook toujours aussi populaire ?
Jan 15, 2010 10:54

[...] sur Wikinomics un billet sur la popularité de Facebook dans le monde. Voici quelques [...]

Marilyn Davison
Jan 27, 2010 3:56

Tim, thanks for bringing this elephant out from under the table so we don’t have to pretend to be enamoured of something because it is – in. For MY highly scientific research I invited my 16 year old male – very bright hip twin neighbors over for dinner. They attend a very intellectually challenging private school in UK (last Christmas they were writing a paper on String Theory and borrowed my mostly un read copy of Lisa Randall’s Fourth Dimension). So, what are the social network trends I ask, – well Twitter is old – boring and Facebook — yaak, really old and boring, Ok so what is in, well what is in are niched Facebook like applications, special social networks for a special interest groups. Well, yes there is resonance here – an example from this community other than Wikinomics is Ben Zeigler’s http://www.collaborativejourneys.com; or Tammy Erickson’s blog on http://blogs.hbr.org/erickson/2010/01/the_moment_social_media.html#comments; thought provoking easy to leave comments and continue a topic based conversation.

Dan Dilworth
Feb 2, 2010 14:51

I’m 52 and have been pulled into Facebook by family and communities I’m part of. It seems to me simply an extension of the thing that is the internet. In my case, a focused approach to things I care about, but would not attend to without this convienience. I feel fortunate that I’m either too old or experienced to fall pray to fad or preoccupation with FB that causes undue concern or angst for some, but I understand it.

Tim
Feb 3, 2010 11:27

Thanks for the comments.
I continue to be interested in what’s happening with Facebook. I found this piece yesterday from the Red Tape Chronicles: Facebook: The end of secrets?. Go here: http://redtape.msnbc.com/2010/01/what-would-a-world-without-secrets-look-like-thanks-to-facebook-we-may-find-out—privacy-experts-continue-to-watch-in-won.html. I found reading the comments very interesting; they are all over the map about privacy on FB and in general. Hope you find the reading interesting.
Tim

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