Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Social networks losing steam

I’ve seen almost no coverage about the recent data from ComScore on social networking sites. That surprises me, because it’s pretty interesting stuff. In short, the data shows Facebook, Myspace, et al have recently experienced slowing growth—and in some cases declines—in two key measures: unique visitors and time spent.

(If you’re allergic to statistics, you might want to skip the next four paragraphs.)

You don’t need me to tell you that 2007 was a big year for Facebook in terms of popularity. Facebook’s unique visitors in December were a whopping 81% higher than December 2006 (an increase from 19,000 to nearly 35,000 visitors). But data shows only 5% of that growth came during the last two months, signifying a major slowdown over the latter part of the year.

What’s more, Facebook users are spending less and less time on the site. Facebook’s average minutes per visitor dropped from 196 minutes in October to 169 minutes in December, a 13% decrease.

Things are potentially worse over at Myspace. Their average time spent on the site for December declined nearly 24% year-over-year, from 235 minutes to just 179 minutes per visitor.

And it’s not just a Myspace and Facebook problem. Creative Capital’s Spencer Ante writes, “The total audience of U.S. social networks seems to be stuck at a low-to-mid-single digit growth rate, while the engagement metrics are falling for just about everyone.”

So user levels are plateauing—with a likelihood of shrinking to a smaller core base of users—and the time users spend on the sites is decreasing, a sign (I’d argue) that the perceived value of the sites is diminishing.

About a year ago a friend of mine compared Myspace to the sticker books she had as a child. Her analogy: Sticker books are fun while you’re putting them together, and it’s great to show them around to your friends once their finished, but after that, they have no purpose. The fun is in the doing, the making, not in the having.

All those people who designed the shit out of their Myspace pages must be asking that same question: Now what?

Chris Williams at the Register sums up Facebook users’ behavior as:

“… Join, accumulate dozens of semi-friends, spy on a few exes for a bit, play some Scrabulous, get bored, then get on with your life, occasionally dropping in to respond to a message or see some photos that have been posted.”

I must say this describes my own Facebook activity pretty well.

So where’s the gap? Why are people so drawn to some social networking sites only to get bored and disengage? My opinion is that people enjoy the small-scale celebrity and in-crowd-ness that comes with the early phase of online social networking—being part of a rising tide, accumulating online friends (even if they’re just the same friends we rarely see in real life)—but either haven’t been given the tools to extend the experience beyond that first phase (though Facebook apps have certainly taken a step down that path) or don’t have the innate creativity to continue to produce meaningful content over the long term. And if there’s no new meaningful content—to create or experience—why visit the site?

What does it all mean?

For starters, it means Facebook surely ain’t worth no $15 billion.

Read Chris Williams’s “Facebook fatigue” article.
Read Spencer Ante’s “It’s official” article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That, and "getting bitten and turned into a virtual Zombie" is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. If that's called "fun," then I'm not having any.
- DY