Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Facebook Fading?

There is such a thing as a maximum, even for Facebook. Now, it seems to be declining in the parts of the world where it has the most subscribers. Internet users are an impatient lot – because they can be.

The web based news source Inside Facebook writes about a declining number of active users in parts of the world. In the USA, they have dropped from 155.2 million to 149.4 million the last month. Canada has the same tendency.

Worldwide, though, Facebook keeps on growing – from 675.4 million to 687.1 million in the last month. That's simply because the Internet users increase, especially in parts of the world where it's still not a household thing.

In the past 12 months, Facebook has increased its active users worldwide with 45%. The countries with the biggest increase are Brazil (300%), India (152%), and Thailand (133%). Now, they hope for expansion in China, which is probably the only way Facebook can reach one billion active users.

The figures still indicate that there's a limit to Facebook spread, and it's reached in countries where it has been around the longest. We see Internet fads come and go so quickly that they are very hard to predict. The only thing we know for sure is that behaviors will continue to change.

A Grown-up Myspace

The Facebook story is unusual. It started as a rather boring grown-up version of Myspace (which is still around, but way past its peak). Instead of go-crazy visual and audio designs, Facebook was the stiff white and blue setting for people terrified by the fireworks of Myspace and the chaos of the Internet in general. Sort of going back from the computer to the typewriter.

They had some silly thingys, pretending to introduce a bit of fun for the users. Poking, sending virtual beer bottles and birthday presents, and so on. Quite ridiculous. I tried it for a couple of days, but then deserted my Facebook account for about a year, maybe two.

The buzz about Facebook increased, but mainly among adults. They joined and bragged about it, as if participating on a daring expedition into the unknown. They spoke with awe about Facebook, revealing that they didn't know much about the Internet and its resources. I doubted that the fad would last, since Facebook seemed to be aimed at strangers to the Internet, and that's a dying breed.

The Internet Is an Adolescent

Well, I was wrong. What changed it all, as far as I understand, was that young people started to use Facebook as their social network. Teenagers, tired of the limitations of chat rooms and Myspace, invaded Facebook and molded it into something relevant for their needs. I believe that was what created the big boom, at least it was what made Facebook trendy. Maybe the teens are now the first ones to abandon it?

Internet is still young. An adolescent. So, to see its future, we should follow the teens. Their use of it points the way. It's like any cultural phenomena. Popularity comes and goes, trends appear and fade away, as the restless ones rush on through life in search of new sensations. We don't necessarily change to improve things, but because we need change.

The Internet market place is based on the mistaken assumption that what grows really big will remain forever. Instead, what has reached its peak is destined to crumble. The main difference between the real and the virtual world is that the latter has no solid structures. It can all go away as quickly as by pressing DEL on the keyboard. Therefore, when a website has grown ridiculously big is not the moment to buy its stock, but to sell it.

The Users and the Used

Another mistake often made by engineers as well as entrepreneurs of the Internet is that they believe it to be able to create needs in the users. But that's denied already by the term “user”. People are users and the Internet is being used. The success of a website depends on how well it can be used and how readily it adapts to user needs.

Facebook is good for creating a social network online, but not as good at allowing the users to deepen, chisel, and target that network. That's because it's aimed at expansion, not at specialization. Most Internet businesses dream of taking over the world, so they can't avoid making the mistake of swelling beyond their functionality. Size is a quantity, not a quality.

Facebook will remain if it manages to recognize and adapt to the increased needs of the users. Otherwise another solution will take over, and that can happen from one day to the next.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice assessment of the situation.
    Well written.

    ReplyDelete