No, Facebook is Not Dying.

Thursday, December 26, 2013 - 11:08 AM

No, Facebook is not dying. 

Although there's a huge appetite for stories to the contrary. The one circulating today cites ethnographic research from the EU which makes the startling claim that “Facebook is basically dead and buried with UK teenagers.”

Although that’s a direct quote from anthropologist Daniel Miller, it turns out he’s using a different understanding of “dead and buried” than the one you might be used to.

To back up for a moment, here was Miller’s methodology. He interviewed kids in one town in the United Kingdom (the larger study he’s part of is looking at other towns in other countries). In November, Miller focussed on the 16-18 year olds in that town. Those kids told him that they’re less excited about Facebook, and that they use a bunch of other social media and messaging services.

For this group Facebook is not just falling, it is basically dead, finished, kaput, over. It is about the least cool thing you could be associated with on the planet. It has been replaced by a combination of four media, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.

OK. But then here’s Miller one paragraph later:

…most of the schoolchildren say they will remain on Facebook, but in essence as a mode of family interaction because their parents and even grandparents are starting to see it as almost an obligation to keep in touch through Facebook. So I don’t expect Facebook to necessarily disappear altogether.

When Miller says that Facebook is “basically dead,” he means, “less cool than it was.” When he says that “the young are moving on to cooler things,” he seems to mean, “some teengers I met are continuing to use Facebook, as well as other services they find more glamorous.” If teenagers refused to use products they thought were uncool but necessary, the braces market would collapse overnight.

Facebook is the second most popular website in the entire world. However often Mark Zuckerberg displeases people, he maintains a huge advantage by virtue of being the place we’re all already signed up for.

Even if you no longer use Facebook as a place to broadcast anything more private or personal than your name, its strength as a directory is really important. It means that, like the phone companies, Facebook’ll always have an enormous network advantage that it can use to reinvent ways to make money from. Plus, Facebook has the money to buy out (or rip-off) the glamorous new stuff that UK teens are so excited about. (You know, like Instagram, one of those four competitors Miller cites, which Facebook owns.)

It’s exciting to imagine life without Facebook, and saying that anything will die is, in the long run, a safe bet. But if, as it seems, 2014 will be the year we read a never-ending parade of stories about the Death of Facebook, you can probably safely ignore them. The first sign that Facebook’s actually in trouble will be when it’s no longer popular enough to earn clickbait pieces about its imminent death.


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Comments [5]


for me it got old real fast..(2 or 3 mo.)

Jan. 12 2014 10:34 PM
Dianne from Southern California

The more the media obsesses over Facebook, Twitter, Google and the rest of the empty vessels that are nothing more than thieves of our privacy, the less interest I have in participating. I don't own an electronic leash othrwise known as a SmartPhone, I don't wander around obsessed with a 3" screen, I do use a computer but I figure it will last no more than 2 years because of the planned obsolescence that will make it incapable of functioning sooner rather than later. At that point, I will unplug for good and live, happier I think, in a world where people are forced to actually speak to me directly or ignore me completely. Either is fine with me. I don't need Facebook or Twitter to affirm that I exist, or to document my rather uninteresting life to a world which cares nothing about me. I don't need to publicize my shortcomings in endlessly bad photos. I don't care if no one knows where I stand on the earth. The older I get, the less relevant all of this self-obsession becomes. I think I've reached the tipping point of overload with endless trivia for myself and for others. And that's okay. I am not unhappy that I am less and less of a group, and more and more of an individual, someone becoming invisible in a universe of overexposed self obsession. When I disappear completely, it will be silently and without a splash on the news feed, like the last dolphin diving into the poison sea. And it will be my choice instead of being forced into someone else's perceptions. Facebook can stay or go. I don't care. It isn't relevant to living my life. A personal choice. The best choice, as it turns out.

Jan. 05 2014 07:41 PM
Antanas Voine from Nova Caesarea (NJ)

PJ, the GSMIS study appears much more interesting than your comments would lead us to believe.

The first two insights alone are worth quoting:

1) People assume that platforms such as Facebook homogenize the world, we show that actually regional usage turns the same platform into totally different genres for each site.

2) People think that social network sites such as Facebook are just the latest extension of the Internet. We show that in most important respects, Facebook is better understood as the very opposite of the Internet. The internet fostered specialist groups, Facebook brings groups into the same space. The internet fostered anonymity, Facebook the lack of privacy etc etc.

Some food for though, don't you think?

Jemima Kiss over at the Guardian dug a little deeper. I quote her article, which revealed an even more interesting trend identified by the study:

Information that people choose to publish on Facebook has generally been through a psychological filtering process, researchers found - unlike conversations, photos and video shared through more private tools such as Skype, or on mobile apps.

"Most individuals try to present themselves online the way they think society is expecting them to," wrote contributing anthropologist Razvan Nicolescu on Thursday. "It seems that social media works not towards change – of society, notions of individuality and connectedness, and so on – but rather as a conservative force that tends to strengthen the conventional social relations and to reify society as Italians enjoy and recognize it. The normativity of the online presence seems to be just one expression of this process."

Privacy. Self-expression. Public discourse. Anonymity. Censorship. Self-censorship. Corporate ownership of internet public space. All hot topics, and all there, being studied.

Read past the headlines, PJ!

and Happy New Year!

Dec. 30 2013 09:06 AM
Hal O'Brien

"Plus, Facebook has the money to buy out (or rip-off) the glamorous new stuff that UK teens are so excited about."

Increasingly, no, they don't.

Snapchat turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook. Not because the money was bad, but because it would mean selling to, well... Facebook. Ew.

Facebook is so uncool, and certainly has such a bad reputation for incompetence among programmers, that increasingly Facebook is finding it difficult to buy out competitors at any price.

Like the joke about lawyers and lab rats goes, There are some thing you just can't get a rat to do.

Dec. 26 2013 08:49 PM
Viktoria Muchaelis from Germany

Funny, even Facebook have admitted there is a problem getting younger users to sign up. Guess they don't know their own business. Not dead, but losing the battle for new, younger victims.

Dec. 26 2013 12:30 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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