Facebook's regional impact varies, and in many countries other social media are far more popular, like Orkut (120M users, mainly in India and Brazil), or the Chinese Qzone with its 500M (and rising) users, probably surpassing Facebook's 600M users already in 2011. Twitter has 200M users, but the fast rising Chinese Sina Weibo is hot on their heels with 140M users.
Ten years ago, a phone line, a road used to be the infrastructure needed for a functional society and social life in general. But today, social media satisfy a need that must be considered a new type of infrastructure, like roads, like surface mail, like telephone lines, like ferries ... The 'novelty' theory is misleading, because social media are not a toy, comparable to computer games. Social media is our new interpersonal infrastructure.
All social media corresponds to a social need. So if users are leaving Facebook, it cannot be due to 'boredom' or 'novelty fatigue'. The reason or reasons for this decline must be sougth within the framework of Facebook itself.Users don’t leave Facebook to start collecting stamps, or to go fly-fishing instead. Facebook is not a simple hobby or pastime, just one of many items on a menu of entertainment and activities that Man can choose from. Facebook and other social media combined are there to serve the need for a platform from which to socialize in modern society. If Facebook loses users, it can only be because the users feel that Facebook does not satisfy their need or needs.
The fault is Facebook's own, and it is easily identifiable.
In my own country Facebook is big. Of a 5M population, 2.8M have a Facebook account. Thus, 80 % of all potential Norwegians (minus the 1.5M under 13 and over 65 years old), are on Facebook. It's a number that is analogous to Norwegian telephone coverage in the 1950ies.
Facebook has for the last months introduced a number of changes and restrictions. The motivation is said to be a desire to reduce the amount of spam and Facebook traffic in general. The changes were also based on user complaints of too many PMs and far too many requests, invites, suggestions, applications and whatnot. But the consequences can prove disastrous for Facebook.
This winter, Norwegian Facebook suddenly started a purge against what has been labeled "False profiles". All and any profiles that were not personal, not containing a surname and a given name, were deleted without warning. It hit libraries, art galleries, cafés, pubs and restaurants, NGOs, fun profiles, forcing them all to either give up Facebook completely or transfer their activities onto Facebook Pages instead.
I was losing ‘false’ friends in droves, as their ‘false’ profiles were deleted by Facebook. For a while I lost maybe 5 Friends a day, all deleted without warning – Facebook was not even polite about it. At least they could have given their users a fair and friendly warning, so users might salvage important pictures, links and Personal messages plus their Friend list. But no. Facebook Norway interpreted "false" as "bad, mischievous breaking of rules"/"immoral"/"punishable by deletion", as if the "false" user was buying alcohol with a fake ID. I mean, what's wrong with the word "incorrect"?
Whereas a company or an NGO previously could interact as a “person” (profile), an anonymous, but identifiable, even official entity, having all the means and ways of communication of a personal Facebook profile at their disposal, now the company or the NGO were forced into the Facebook Page format, where the Admins can only send Updates to "fans", i.e. Updates most users don't read anyway. Direct communication by Personal Message disappeared.
A company with five employees that used to share a Facebook Profile called "Green Inc", would now have to maintain five separate accounts. Indeed, "Green Inc" can in principle no longer maintain a steady Facebook Profile presence, as Marketing Directors come and go.
Then, begging for disaster, Facebook’s next moves turned out to be universal, not just limiting the Facebook interface for companies and NGOs:
* Changing the "Suggest to Friends" option on Pages to what de facto is "Recommend to friends with a small ad in the upper right corner of your screen, only visible part of the time”.
* Changing "Suggest to friends" in Facebook Groups to the far more intrusive "Add friends to group", even though in this latter case, it must in all fairness be said that (for once on Facebook) the user actually has the necessary Setting tools to limit or switch off any communication within a given Group.
So our poor NGO user, whose "false" profile just has been deleted, a profile with 1.000 Friends, no less, something which had taken our distraught user 7 months to achieve, will now have to work up a totally new Page to achieve his or her goal(s) on Facebook, whatever that or those might be. The user can no longer send Personal messages the same day to all of her friends and ask them to join her Page.
She can, of course, use her Personal (private non-related) profile, if she has one, to recruit fans, but maybe she has just 250 Friends, and of them perhaps only a mere hundred are inclined to Like her Page. Besides, only a measly 8 Friends can have the privilege at the time, according to the new rules.
It takes a whole lot of work to revamp those 1.000 contacts, which is why we all lately have observed that the number of new non-staffed NGO-Pages and spontanous social Pages, maybe Facebook Pages in general, are on the decline, both in activity and numbers. It simply takes too much work to establish and maintain them after the new Facebook “improvements”.
An example: Nuclear power is not the hippest thing these days. I mean, Fukushima, Japan and all that, right? But a newly constructed Page that demands a clean-up of Norwegian nuclear waste, has after several weeks not more than 48 supporters. Dear readers, from what I know of my fellow Norwegian countrymen and -women and their general disdain for nuclear energy ... Just take my word for it: I can assure you that one year ago, that Page would be approaching a minimum of 10.000 supporters by now.
It's elementary, my dear Watson.
So where did Facebook go wrong? We are talking a cardinal error, it was forgetting the no. 1 rule and the defining word for all social media: Identity.
Willy is looking for a new job, and he has recently added himself to Pages and Groups with names like: Overtime never killed anyone and Hard work is better than sex as well as Red Cross, Family is everything to me and Earth Hour.
Marianne would like to hook up with a sexy book lover, but there are six Samuel Beckett-pages, and she has no idea which one is best for her. But even so, she will most like never bother to check if any of these Pages have at least some Scandinavian members, and her friend Tina does not bother to Suggest to friends (= recommend) the correct Page anymore, as she spent half an hour last week inviting (recommending) the Beckett Page to 300 of her friends, but a measly three users joined, as opposed to one year ago, when Marianne invited her first batch of 300 friends by means of the old system, i.e. directly, clickably, instantanously, whereupon she recruited seventy-five new members, of whom eight invited their friends and so on, increasing the Page's following with several hundred new Beckett-fans in a couple of weeks.
So now, alas, Marianne will never hook up on the Samuel Beckett Page with the dark-haired, six feet tall, handsome Beckett-fan, who loves children and Golder Retrievers and agrees with the statements Real men don't hit women, Ban football and A man who does not remember his wife's birthday is a moron.
Facebook forgot the mantra "If it works, don't change it".
One year ago, every Facebook user received a constant up-to-date stream of Invites and Suggestions to Groups and Pages, and all was swell, even though The Usual Whiners complained indignantly. But for the majority of Facebook users, even the need for reading newspapers disappeared. Every single newspaper headline of importance ended up as a Facebook Group or Page. Politics, celeb news, sports ....
Through this endless stream of ... well, the essence of modern life, the user's profile, the user’s public image, the user's identity was shaped and proudly presented. Through and with and by all this activity combined, the Facebook user would organise his or her social life. And – true or delusional – enjoying the benefits of a personal sense of a more clearly defined personal identity, even enpowerment as a result, and publicly presentable at that.
When it comes to social media, the importance of identity is so self-evident that it is a minor mystery how a large enterprise like Facebook managed to err in such a dramatic fashion.
By restricting the use of the Facebook tools of identity-building, Facebook is sawing off its proverbial branch.
Alternatives to Facebook like diaspora.com or altly.com have so far not been willing or able to enthuse the masses and persuade them to leave Facebook, and Facebook's main contender, bebo.com, has been in serious financial troubles for quite some time, making no money.
Maybe the main argument for Facebook’s continued existence and/or pole position, is the kidz. The teenagers and post-teenagers of Facebook have never really been into all this identity-building. Teenagers just are, and they communicate mostly with their peers, the harshest judges of all, plus any given number of what used to be pen friends or summer holiday friends 10-15 years ago. Kidz who have grown up with and inside the internet have basically always used Facebook as infrastructure already. It's not something they can "get bored with", just like an eighty-five year old lady never can “grow tired of” her road or her mailbox. Facebook just is there, has always been there and will always be there, unless someone comes up with a cooler “digital highway”. Because there is a need for social media.
Any potential David out there wanting to take on Facebook and create the New Social Media Hit, would be well adviced to remember: Identity first, spam whining and server capacity second.
Fifteen years ago Netscape Navigator ruled the modems. In 2006, MySpace was the place to be. Google is working hard on new models for social media, and Pad development may open up for new customized social media that work far better than Facebook on smart phones and pads, or perhaps the future is TV by holographic HDMI - who knows? Nothing lasts forever.
Facebook may soon be the new MySpace. On the internet, interface is all, and the user is king.
One thing is certain, though: A post-Facebook vaccum will never be. Something will most certainly take Facebook’s place if it collapses. The world needs social media, quite simply. Our 2011 infrastructure is more or less defunct without them.