If The New York Times is asking, it must be serious. Is Facebook really just a fad?
The NYT is just the latest to jump on the bandwagon of wondering whether Facebook's recent troubles spell an end to the share era. A couple recent surveys found Facebook user engagement was down (34 percent of users in one survey were spending less time on the site, which some labeled "boring" or "not relevant") and a sizeable number of Americans (46 percent) in another survey thought the company would fade away. And, you know, the stock isn't doing so hot.
I can't seem to get too excited about these surveys. Predictions about the future of technology are famously wrong. President Hayes is reported to have told Alexander Graham Bell, when first seeing a telephone: "That's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?" And a reviewer from the good old New York Times suggested the television didn't have staying power after seeing a demonstration in 1939: "The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it."
So there's that. But in a larger sense, it seems like an obvious question. Of course Facebook is a fad. I have no idea whether Facebook will still be popular when my seven-year-old is old enough for an account (and actually, I hope it's not), but I'd be downright shocked if my grand kids are using it.
And it's not surprising that user engagement waxes and wanes. A recent study from the Atlantic suggests new parents may rely more on Facebook during the turbulent newborn days. Conversely, people who may have been huge Facebook users when they were younger have started families or jobs and may be less interested in what their friends are up to. Facebook doesn't make social interaction magically wonderful all the time. Hanging out with friends can be "boring" and "not relevant" on live chat as easily as in real life.
But Facebook, as well as other social media channels, has forever changed the fabric of online interaction. It's brought my grandma online, because that's where the latest great-grand kid updates are posted. It's made email seem like a clunky tool for keeping in touch. It's allowed the quirky to become mainstream. And, as Raafi Rivero pointed out, it enables interactions that would not have been possible in a world without thriving online communities.
It doesn't take a business degree to see that Facebook is facing some tough times right now. The recent IPO stirred up a lot of bad PR, even if the future of the stock is still up in the air. Facebook's ability to make money on advertising has taken some blows, with GM pulling ads and big advertisers questioning whether Facebook is hungry for their dollars. Maybe the company, which has smart leaders, will figure out a way to make money off its massive user base. Or maybe Facebook's lasting legacy will be as a social experiment rather than a big business.
But if Facebook does fade away, you can bet there will be something ready to take its place. The success of established social media brands such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the rapid rise of newcomers like Pinterest, mean that there are tons of social media startups looking to make their mark. Gamification looks to be breaking through big time, and a crop of new crowdfunding sites allows entrepreneurial Internet users to turn "likes" into dollars. Whether Facebook reinvents itself or The Next Big Thing takes over, I suspect we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the social Web.
About the Author:
Jill Tyndale is a writer and editor who writes on online schooling, career planning and social media. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from one of the fabulous universities in Chicago but has since left the Midwest for the sunny skies of the West Coast.