Facebook, the most popular social networking site may very well be inching towards its 700th million user, but a report from Inside Facebook has revealed a peculiar drop of traffic in this May. In particular, it has lost around 6 million users in the United States alone. Countries like Canada, United Kingdom, Norway and Russia experienced losses of more than 100,000 as well.
Make no mistake, Facebook is still growing, but at a lower-than-expected rate for the past two months. It was reported that the average growth rate was around 20 million new users per month over the last year, but it was 13.9 million in April and 11.8 million this May. It seems that there is a disturbing declining trend going on.
What does this spells for Facebook? It could be nothing alarming, or in the worst-case scenario, the tide is really turning for Facebook. The users might have had enough of the social networking site, but what really bugs them? In this particular post, we’ll explore four key issues associated with Facebook that I have identified as potential triggers for the mass termination of Facebook account. Full detail after jump.
Chances are that you wouldn’t trust someone who always changes his or her words after a promise has been made. Facebook is a service that keeps altering its terms and conditions for their policy. It gets people confused and makes them lost their trust in what it promised to deliver.
(Image Source: Matt McKeon)
Earlier this year, I posted an entry about my opinions on Facebook users’ privacy. Although we might owe it to ourselves when we reveal too much to the free and open internet, it gets worrying when we see advertisements appearing on our accounts that seem to be well-catered to what we want or need. It is apparent to most users that Facebook is collecting and analyzing detailed information about them.
You see, the fact is that privacy is a major issue of Facebook. True, we all know we are vulnerable to losing our privacy anywhere on the internet, but I’m sure most of us wouldn’t want to be ‘lured’ into a superb site, only to know that we sign up for something we didn’t expect – providing profitable data for marketers. At least not without our consent.
2. Frequent Layout Changes
I have been using Facebook for a couple of years now. I realize that every time it does a makeover to its layout, a number of status updates by my friends would pop up in protest of the latest change. It seems to me that people have a hard time adapting them, and some eventually stop using it as often. Well, most people wouldn’t terminate their account right away, but they would simply leave it alone.
Gradually, the interest dies off, especially when inactivity in Facebook essentially means less interaction from your friends on the list. This ends up in a vicious cycle, in that your lack of enthusiasm in Facebook makes it less likely for others to want to interact with you, which then sucks even more of your motivation to access Facebook.
Some would terminate it after a long period of inactivity, while others would leave it as it is. In either case, this is bad for Facebook because the life of a social networking site depends on the amount of interactivity among users. I still have my old Friendster account, but I only log in like twice a year. Why? Because only a rare few of my friends are still playing with it. It’s almost dead. No, it’s already dead in term of interactivity.
To make things complicated, such negative spirit might spread like a disease. When one of your friends quits or become inactive in your list, your Facebook notification wall becomes less lively. So, what happens is that your motivation to interact also drops. This affects the rest of the people on your list since everyone depends on everyone else when it comes to interaction. All these negative effects are stemmed from the frequent change of the Facebook layout, and the fact that Facebook didn’t hear the voice of users.
3. From ‘Fresh’ to ‘Stale’
When Friendster first came about, everyone was excited with the new features that the website could offer. The social networking capability became an overnight phenomenon and it drew a large amount of traffic. It was overtaken by MySpace, which subsequently lost its market to Facebook.
It seems to me that each progressive platform offers the users something more than the previous one. MySpace concentrated on its theme of music and entertainment more than Friendster, while Facebook offered third-party developers to build new applications rather than relying on in-house applications, like what MySpace did.
Facebook might have reached the life stage where users are expecting something new, be it from Facebook or other upcoming social networking services. There is a need to reinvent itself, in the sense of experimenting with new features for users to explore. Fresh ideas materialize when you put them to the test of viability.
That being the case, there is still a risk of making Facebook too complex for one’s liking when you add in new capabilities. Perhaps one good way is to be subtle in making changes. Sudden big changes would throw users off guard and get frustrated with re-learning how to use Facebook all over. Whatever it is, it will do itself good if Facebook is mindful of striking a balance between experimentation and maintaining user-friendliness.
4. Complexity: The Case of Functionality Vs User-friendliness
If you’re given a choice of a TV with a remote control that provides only a few buttons for the most basic functions, and another that enable you to adjust advanced settings with dozens of buttons, which one would you settle for?
Well, to be fair, it really depends on the individual’s preferences. Some people love to tinkle around with stuff, while others like it simple and sweet. In general, though, most people wouldn’t like things to be too complicated when they were using it for the first time, especially when they don’t have the time to learn about the additional functions. The problem: Facebook seems to be getting more sophisticated with each change.
(Image Source: kingkool68)
It used to be the case that it was pretty easy to pick up Facebook, where anyone would instinctively know what to do with it: Updating statuses, uploading photos, posting on walls and poking. When we log in today though, we see an array of activities going on other than the few fundamental ones. We get invites from our friends to join all sorts of game, we get all kinds of pages when we do a quick search. Spams started to appear, and even malicious wall postings that tempt you to click on the link and subsequently make you post the very same viral link to all your friends. All these clutters only bewilder the average user further.
Steep learning curve could turn people off. For myself, I like the advanced features, but only when other users are using it actively as well. If not, it would defeat its purpose of a social networking platform. Yet, when we’re talking about a few hundreds of millions of users, most of them will probably be beginners or intermediates with respect to their expertise with Facebook. Only a small number of them would eventually pick up the more complicated functions and interact with the rest of us.
I guess it’s true you can never please everyone, so it’s logical for Facebook to please just the majority. Simplifying Facebook would probably turn some advanced users off as well, but most users, being amateurs, would support such a move.
5. Rise of Google+?
Could it be that stage of Facebook’s life cycle where everyone is getting tired of the platform and would welcome something new and different, regardless of what it offers? If it is, then Google+ might have come at the right time to draw that crowd away from Facebook.
As you may have already heard, Google+ is an all-new social networking service that offers even deeper level of sharing and interactivity between users in the community. One feature to look out for is its ‘Hangout’ capability, which allows users to initiate Google Talk or video chat with multiple users. This is something that Facebook does not offer presently, and it may very well be its Achilles’ heel.
While it is still in its trial period, there are speculations that Google+ will soon become the mainstream social networking service that possibly replaces Facebook. Others claim that it is simply mimicking Facebook but marketing it as entirely something different. It has what is called ‘Stream’, which is pretty much the same as the status sharing on Facebook. It’s the same with the case of ‘Instant Upload’, which is akin to Facebook’s existing photos upload via mobile phones.
In any case, it is up to anyone’s guess whether Google+ has what it takes to overtake Facebook. The point is, users might be leaving Facebook to crave for something totally different. It will take more than some simple modifications and addition of features to Facebook’s existing platform to satisfy the users. It takes a wholly new and distinctive platform. Google+ may have marketed it well enough to offer such glimmering hope to these disgruntled Facebook users.