Is America Tired Of Social Networking?
Sometime around June this year, Social networking sites (such as Facebook.com and Myspace.com) experienced a huge boost in visitors. However, if you really look at when the social networking sites started spreading like wildfire, it was around 4 years ago, and mostly in the college-age segment. Now, four years later, there is some evidence America is tired of social networking, or at the very least, social networking with no particular end goal.
Compete, a (fairly) accurate web analytics company was able to shed some light on the interactions. The total number of users on social networking is surging – but only for some networks. For example, LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site, experienced over a 480% increase in visitors since last year, while MySpace only added 4.2%. Granted, MySpace is about 20 times larger than LinkedIn, but what about Facebook? Facebook is only half the size of MySpace, and had 111% growth in visitors since last year. Just like a computer owner of 10 years is more likely to choose a non-Best Buy computer and go with something more advanced an with more customizable options, there are signs that enthusiasts are starting to pick out the “better” networks in order to interact on, and cutting out the bad. With experience comes sophistication.
Compete measures attention, which it defines as the amount of time spent on a certain domain as a percentage of time spent by all U.S. internet users. This is a particularly useful tool to use in order to chart the changing “tastes” of the American web surfer. When we look at LinkedIn, which was more of an online business Rolodex rather than a “social network” until a few months ago, we see that it has exploded with over a 1,000% increase in attention since last year. Over the same time period, MySpace has actually lost 40% of its users attention, with Facebook earning 58% more attention.
Side Note: Part of the attention drop, at least in MySpace’s case, may have something to do with the fact that it takes much less time to complete certain tasks on the site since they have injected it with a heap of AJAX. People might just be getting more done in less time. But again, that wouldn’t account for the huge 40% drop.
When you look at a few of the social networking sites together though, you see that overall the attention level on these sites has actually gone down quite a bit over the last year, as the graph shows.
It seems that every week now Facebook is coming out with a new feature, and MySpace and the rest of the social networking sites take one of two positions:
- Hustle and copy Facebook’s new feature
- Wait a while and pretend you don’t take leadership cues from Facebook. Then hustle and copy Facebook’s new feature
We saw this happen with the “friend updates” feature, the developer platform for applications, and even for non-feature items like MySpace’s attempt to “clean up” the site’s design to compete better with Facebook. When products/services add in thousands of features, what usually happens is this – beginners and light users leave, and power users love the changes and use it more. Imagine if you had a 125 option coffee maker – how frustrating would it be to wake up each morning and try to figure that one out?
A History of Fads
I think there are some important hidden gems in these facts. First of all, while many people are still coming on board social networking, others are over the initial fad. American fads tend to follow a certain common trend, historically. Let me give you an example. First you have a catalyst for something, like a few celebrities wearing Crocs. Then, you have a rush of people seeking to be a part of that fad, buying Crocs, talking about Crocs, even naming their child Crocs.
Shortly thereafter, a crowd of fakes enters the market, eventually making everyone sick and tired of hearing about Crocs, and alerting the less social people that it is indeed a “fad” that they are partaking in (which usually results in them dumping the fad in the next available wastebasket – heaven help them if they get caught with something that is a fad).
The most interesting part however, is the end. That is, even after the fad has come and gone, there will forever be a core group of people who just really, honestly liked the item, and will keep seeking it out, using it, buying it – and walla! a new niche market has been created.
A Means To An End
What this drop tells me also, is that no longer should social networks count on keeping visitors because of the fad, but rather because the sites are a tool to accomplish something. Plan an event. Organize a movement. Track down a particular old friend. Publicize your resume. Drive your career. The fad has worn off, and now is the critical time where people decide whether to join the niche market who lives by the social networking sites, or who decides it is simply an attention waster, nothing more impressive than a Sudoku puzzle, or a FaceDouble site. This reality is evidenced by the rise of the networks that focused on accomplishing something (Facebook, in some respects, Plaxo, LinkedIN, various other niches networks), and stalled growth of the “entertainment” social networks, like MySpace.
I should note, MySpace is useful for accomplishing certain things. We’ve seen it boost musicians, event/party promotion and celebrity wannabes. I expect them to continue using MySpace in full force until they realize this shift of energy. Afterall, you can’t be much of a musician or a celebrity if the only people left on your network are the same – you all need an audience to be those things!
Similarly, it appears that we have reached the point where just living half your day on a social network is no longer as exciting as it was when it first came out, given the stats. The fad is over – at least for the moderately web-aware Americans. Now the real test of the usefulness of these networks begins, and its ability to create a large niche market for career advancement, event planning, and organizing for a cause.