THULANI MASHIANE

Not too long ago everyone asked the question, “Are you on Facebook?” Now we don’t hear that so often. Why has this changed?

Social networking is characterised by diversity. Users shift quickly from one platform to another.

 

The site was started in 2004 as an online profiling site for Harvard. It gained 1 200 users within 24 hours of its launch and expanded to several Boston campuses by 2005. Facebook exceeded Mark Zuckerberg’s initial goal of creating a college directory product.

In February 2014, Facebook celebrated ten years of success as the world’s most popular social network. According to StatisticBrain.com, Facebook had 1.1 billion users as of March 2013 and a revenue of $6.15 billion. Now, in the year of its tenth anniversary, the network is faced with talks of doom and perceived decline from a lack of enthusiastic users.

The modern day teenager has to deal with the increased invasion of the social network by parents. This has drawn attention to the decline in users in this age group. Facebook chief financial officer David Ebersman confirms the decrease in users to Forbes. A survey among teenagers from 30 different countries found that there was a decline in active users from 76% to 56% in only six months.

First-year BSc Environmental Sciences student Tumisang Mokgobu says, “I used Facebook consistently in my first two years but I haven’t even touched it much this year.”

According to BusinessTech.com, in early 2013 social media analyst SocialBankers announced a 3.85% decrease in Facebook users in South Africa. Michal Wronski, managing director of information analyst Fuseware, describes this as “social media fatigue and boredom”.

AFP reports the shift in user age group statistics and behavioural trends in an article by Glenn Chapmann titled “Facebook battles to stay young and cool”. Wronski says he believes the quality of the service has declined due to the mass advertising appearing on the home feed as well as privacy concerns surrounding the use of Facebook. He goes on to mention that users are turning to other sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest due to real-time communication available on these networks.

Reabetswe Motlana, a second-year drama student, says she only uses Facebook once every three months to catch up with distant friends. Second-year civil engineering student Rolayo Olukuhle says, “I hardly ever use Facebook. To me it was more of a ‘high school thing’, now I use mainly BBM and WhatsApp.”

In Forbes, GlobalWebIndex’s founder and CEO Tom Smith clarifies the controversy around Facebook’s decline in users by saying that most teenagers are making use of mobile messaging apps but still have a Facebook account, and that it has become a trend to reveal they no longer use the network.

The interesting part of this decline is that all other age groups are signing up. There’s an indication of the loss in young users being compensated by older users signing up.

Among various theories of Facebook’s decline, the social network is compared to Myspace where users will eventually fade into other networks. Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott said to AFP that “unlike Myspace, Facebook continually innovates with features offered by its competitors”.

So where are young adults going for social networking today? According to Forbes, the answer is “Instant messaging and quick photo-sharing app services”. Even Facebook Messenger has seen an increase in usage lately.

The Facebook decline, particularly centred on young age groups, remains a noticeable phenomenon. This does not necessarily deem the network dead or dying any time soon though.

Illustration: Simon-Kai Garvie

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