Has Facebook become less fun?
That’s something many users — especially those in their teens and early 20s — are asking themselves as they wade through endless posts, photos “liked” by people they barely know and spur-of-the moment friend requests. Has it all become too much of a chore? Are the important life events of your closest loved ones drowning in a sea of jokes?
Chatter about Facebook’s demise never seems to die down, whether it’s talk of “Facebook fatigue” or grousing about how the social network lost its cool once grandma joined. The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project recently found that some 61 percent of Facebook users had taken a hiatus from the site for reasons that range from “too much gossip and drama” to “boredom.” Some respondents said there simply isn’t enough time in their day for Facebook.
If Facebook’s users leave, or even check in less frequently, its revenue growth suffers. The company, which depends on targeted advertising for most of the money it makes, booked revenue of $5.1 billion in 2012, up from $3.7 billion a year earlier.
But so far, for every person who has left permanently, several new people have joined up. Facebook has more than 1 billion users around the world. Of these, 618 million sign in every day.
These days, however, many people use Facebook in the same way that they use email or the telephone, preferring Facebook simply because everyone they know is there. That’s a sign that Facebook’s biggest asset may also be its biggest challenge.
“We have never seen a social space that actually works for everybody,” says Danah Boyd, who studies youth culture, the Internet and social media as a senior researcher at Microsoft Research. “People don’t want to hang out with everybody they have ever met.”
Might Facebook go the way of email? Those who came of age in the “You’ve got mail” era can reminisce fondly about arriving home from school and checking their email accounts to see if anyone had sent them an electronic message. Boyd, who is 35, recalls being a teenager and “thinking email is the best thing ever.”
Few people share that sentiment today.
“Although email has gone from after-school treat to a dull routine in the space of 20 years, no one is ready to ring its death knell just yet,” says Boyd. “And similarly, Facebook’s lost luster doesn’t necessarily foreshadow its obsolescence.
“I don’t see teenagers leaving in droves,” she says. “I just don’t see it being their site of passion.”
In March, Facebook unveiled a redesign to address some of its users’ most pressing gripes. The retooling, which is already available to some people, is intended to get rid of the clutter that’s been a complaint among Facebook users for some time.
Jane Leibrock, whose title at Facebook is user experience researcher, says it was about a year ago that she noticed people were complaining about “clutter” in their feeds. Leibrock asked them what they meant. It turns out that the different types of content flowing through people’s News Feeds — links, ads, photos, status updates or things people “liked” — were “making it difficult to focus on any one thing,” she says. “It might have even been discouraging them from finding new content.”
The new design seeks to address the issue. There is a distinct feed for “all friends,” another for different groups of friends, one just for photos, and one for pages that users follow. As a result, says Chris Struhar, the lead engineer on the new design, the new feeds give people a way to see everything that’s going on.
Daniel Singer is 13 and, according to his public Facebook profile, he enjoys “creating great iOS apps.” Last year, the eighth-grader created YouTell, a site that lets people ask for anonymous feedback from friends. You can use Facebook to log in, or email. As someone who designs applications, Singer calls Facebook’s graphical design “brilliant.” Still, he thinks the average teenager wants to see new stuff. Twitter comes to mind, along with Instagram and Pheed, a photo-text-video-audio-sharing app.
For Singer, Facebook is part of a daily routine.