Is Facebook past its prime?

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from PCWorld.com.

Is Facebook on its last legs? Is it going to pull a MySpace on us? Will Facebook be the Internet’s hip site du jour one day, then suddenly lose the love and affection of most of its followers the next? We hope not. But various irritations associated with the site could contribute to its eventual demise.

Already, in the first quarter of this year, the “bounce rate”—the percentage of visits to Facebook.com that consist of a single page view and then a quick exit—has grown by 19 percent, according to Internet traffic research firm Alexa. Though that statistic hardly qualifies as conclusive proof of Facebook’s imminent demise, it does raise the possibility that a large number of Facebookers are surfing over to the site, finding little there of interest, and promptly leaving.

Here are some reasons Facebook might be losing its grip on people's online networking lives.

1. Facebook Veterans Are Defecting to Twitter

People who delight in constant updates are the lifeblood of Facebook—but many of them are flocking to Twitter. When it comes to intense scrutiny of everyday trivialities, Twitter thoroughly out-Facebooks Facebook, where two or three status updates a day is the maximum before you start looking like a loser.

And even though you can update Facebook from your phone, Twitter feels more mobile. It gives the impression that you’re out and about, simultaneously doing something important and tweeting about it, whereas updating your Facebook page implies that you’re sitting by yourself at a computer with nothing better to do.

2. People Who Actually Have Lives Don't Use Facebook

If you’re starring in a major motion picture or negotiating a trade agreement with Austria or training for next month’s triathlon or competing for a spot on the Space Shuttle, chances are you’re not spending much time on Facebook. And if you are doing any of these things and happen to have a Facebook page, you probably aren’t maintaining it very diligently.

There’s a growing sense among Facebook users that the amount of time a person spends on Facebook may be inversey proportionate to how much is going on in the person’s (offline) life. Perhaps unfairly, you may get the impression that only bored and boring people have time to tell their friends that they love the new pita bread at Trader Joe’s.

3. In the Real World, People Often Have Good Reasons for Losing Touch With Old Friends

For so long, the thrill of Facebook was about reconnecting with people you thought you’d never see again. (“Oh, Little Miss Popular from high school! Did she end up really fat?” ... ”Oh, that hot guy from calculus class. Is he married now?”) And so on and so on. But now veteran Facebookers find themselves at an impasse: There’s nobody left. Having reestablished ties with a few hundred friends from your past, you may be wracking your brain for additional lost acquaintances to “invite.” When you find yourself trying to find and friend the janitor at your old middle school, you know it’s become a problem.

Meanwhile, as your rediscovered friends update you about their everyday goings-on, they offer you a multiple opportunities to recall the reasons you lost contact with them in the first place. Examples: “Don” was always a nonsensical rambler back in college—and lo and behold, his rants take up half of your news feed now. “Heidi” always sucked up in English class, and she finds ample opportunity on Facebook to display her mindless sycophancy anew. No wonder you neglected to fulfill your yearbook promises to “stay in touch!” Facebook has recently started allowing users to “hide” their friends, and you may be inclined to “hide” almost all of them.

4. Having Too Many Friends Takes the Edge off Facebook Postings

The downside of racking up so many friends on Facebook is that it’s no longer safe to speak honestly about your thoughts and feelings. “I hate my job” used to be safe. But now you’re friends with your boss and your colleagues. “I’m still hung over from last night” was once legit, but now your younger cousin is on there, and she has always looked up to you. Most people would prefer R-rated status updates from their friends, to keep things interesting, but instead everyone is sinking into precautionary PG territory, and it’s getting rather dull. (For more on this subject, see How to Avoid Facebook and Twitter Disasters.)

You’ve also probably grown up quite a bit in the five-plus years since Facebook began, in which case you aren’t the same person who created your original profile and started writing on people’s walls. Unfortunately, deleting all of that history is a big pain. You get a new boyfriend and have to wipe out all the photo albums of the old one. You get a new job and have to go scour your profile for inappropriate comments before friending your new colleagues. Reinventing yourself is hard with a wall full of history memorializing your past.

5. After That ‘25 Things’ Note, There's Not Much Left to Say

First you filled out a long list of interests, hobbies, favorite movies, books, and music; posted album after album of the hottest pictures of yourself; and wrote endless updates about what you were up to. Then, a few months ago, the 25 Things note burst onto the Facebook scene, inviting you to achieve new levels of narcissism by laboring over a creative autobiographical fact sheet and posting it to your profile. Responding to that challenge, you were more candid, literary, and elaborate than ever, but now there’s nowhere to go but down.

Illustrating this depressing fact is the recent, hideous Facebook trend of using quiz results as status updates. “Which kind of partier are you?” Result: “The hot girl throwing up in the bathroom!” ... “Which kind of animal noise are you?” Result: “Ribbit, Ribbit!” Facebookers are clearly wiped out of material. There is nothing more to say.

Facebook’s long-term survival is up to the people who use it. The first order of business might be to just say “no” to publishing the quizzes. Quiz results are no match for original content, even if it consists of your latest report on making the bed or washing your hair. Another key issue is to choose your friends carefully. Is the prospective friend (your boss, your grandmother, your ex) going to force boringness on your future updates? Is this newcomer’s presence going to require you to censor your wall? If so, click “ignore” in response to the person's friend request. More is not necessarily merrier when it comes to Facebook. It’s the old quality over quantity thing: The quality of the content people share at Facebook may contribute to the longevity of the site far more than the sheer number of people who connect with each other.

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