Are Facebook’s Days Numbered?

Three years ago, while doing a brief residency with film students at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, the students requested I use Facebook to share project ideas and to communicate. I was not on Facebook at the time, but, being a flexible fellow, I obliged.

Back then, according to insidefacebook.com, the numbers went something like this:

  • Facebook now (Sept. 07) has more than 42 million active users (double the number one year ago when it opened up registration and growing at more than 200,000 per day since January)
  • More than half of Facebook users are outside of college (85 percent of US college students still use Facebook)
  • More than half of active users return daily (users spend an average of 20 minutes on the site per day)
  • Facebook is the top photo sharing application on the Web
  • There are more than 6 million active user groups on the site
  • More than 80% of Facebook members have used at least one application built on the Facebook Platform

Facebook’s rise has been meteoric. For those interested in the current state of Facebook user data, go here.

Facebook is now bigger than the US. Canadian, and Japanese populations put together.

But…

The essence of Facebook’s appeal is vanishing. It can be summed up in one word…privacy.

The original appeal to the college market was the in-group dynamic. Only colleges used it. Not mom and dad. Not your local politician, not the spammy internet marketing weirdo. Just students. Students who value privacy.

Now, with Facebook’s compromised security status, ie. twice yearly updates momentarily open up all information in Facebook to be indexed by bots and spiders, the appeal is waning. I have been defriended by three long time Facebook users recently. They have simply shut down.

Here’s the thought process as far as I can tell:

“I love Facebook. I have 325 friends. But someone hacked a friend and sent me a message with a virus filled link. I trust that friend, so I clicked it. Now my machine doesn’t work. Not only that, the ads are becoming more intrusive, and everytime one of my friends joins a “group” or suggests and “app”  I cannot join unless I agree to “give up” all my profile info. This place is getting too crowded. I don’t trust it anymore. I wonder if there is something out there like Facebook used to be…”

Hence the emergence of sites like joindiaspora.com started by college students from NYU. It is taking off like a wildfire in Santa Ana winds.

Does their tagline sound familiar?:

the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network”

and then..

“We think people’s private and personal control is in jeopardy more than ever online, and every day we hear about more and more of our peers who say that Diaspora is something that they want and need…”

Their peers are leaving Facebook because it is no longer something they want or need. People crave privacy. People want to carve out their own “safe” place online.

If you have no problem with Facebook being like Google, then you’ll be well served by Facebook for years to come.

If you like your online life ensconced, fenced in, behind closed doors…you’ll be able to find more than a dozen Diasopra like sites in the coming months. And you wont find college students going over to the other big social sites either.

They’ll want something new, unheard of, and ahead of the curve. What a great time to be an upstart social networking site. Facebook is throwing off all sorts of disillusioned devotees.

Are Facebook’s day numbered? No. It will be here for some time. 400 million people don’t go away overnight. But the core group of drivers which got Facebook off the launching pad are off to greener, more private pastures. For them, the question is moot.

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