[11 February 2008]
PopMatters General Features Editor
I found these charts, courtesy of economist Aaron Schiff, interesting. They chart the growth in traffic at the social networking duopoly:
Schiff’s conclusion: “Social network traffic grows exponentially for about two years, and then follows a random walk.” For me, that confirms my sense that social-network users are perpetually migrating to new sites that they feel are more exclusive, and then when the ordinary folks catch on they move elsewhere. It’s sort of a small-scale model of Veblen’s theory of emulative consumer behavior. And it also points to the fact that advertisers shouldn’t get their hopes up about the potential locked-in quarry of users that the social networks promise, as this BusinessWeek article details.
Social networking was supposed to be the Next Big Thing on the Internet. MySpace, Facebook, and other sites have been attracting millions of new users, building sprawling sites that companies are banking on to trigger an online advertising boom. Trouble is, the boom isn’t booming anymore. Like Heritage, many people are spending less time on social networking sites or signing off altogether.
The MySpace generation may be getting annoyed with ads and a bit bored with profile pages. The average amount of time each user spends on social networking sites has fallen by 14% over the last four months, according to market researcher ComScore. MySpace, the largest social network, has slipped from a peak of 72 million users in October to 68.9 million in December, ComScore says.
The article searches for evidence of its thesis that suers are mainly turned off by the ads, collecting mainly some anecdotal evidence in the form of quotes from random users. It’s not hard to imagine, though, that people don’t want their friendships sponsored by corporations. It seems entirely possible that people will be able to build ad hoc social-network like tools for keeping in touch with friends that aren’t under the auspices of big corporate brand. At that point, Facebook and MySpace will more clearly be seen as the beefed-up versions of Classmates.com that they really are, useful as places to search for people you once knew on a whim. But for other functions, they will seem like the second-coming of AOL, weirdly gated versions of the internet at large. Eventually even the late adopters and the technophobes will be comfortable enough to cut out such middlemen, when they see the value added isn’t worth wasting time and effort with evading the ads.
Update: This article from Spiked Online details the privacy issues with Facebook, all the more reason to eschew it for direct internet access. Facebook really is digital sharecropping:
read the terms and conditions for sign-up. These clearly state that Facebook owns all the data users add to the site: ‘By posting Member Content to any part of the website, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, perform, display, reformat, translate, excerpt and distribute such information and content and to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such information and content, and to grant and authorise sublicenses of the foregoing…’