bbc.co.uk Navigation

Rory Cellan-Jones

Facebook - back to the kids?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 22 Feb 08, 11:20 GMT

Facebook - it's so over. That's been the tenor of most of the commentary since Thursday's figures showing a slight dip in Facebook's UK users. The general feeling is that the kids, with their minute attention spans, have already tired of the social networking site and moved on to something more hip and happening. I think the opposite is true - that Facebook's new wave of older users have decided it is just not worth the bother and are now leaving it to the kids.

Facebook websiteFacebook was already well established on every student campus in Spring 2007, when it grabbed the attention of the London media. Suddenly every national newspaper and broadcaster was desperate to write about it - and I was one of the worst offenders. Stories I did for the Radio 4 Today programme and for this website asked whether people like me were too old for social networking. They got a bigger response than just about anything I have ever written, with over a thousand people getting in touch to assure me that socialising online was not just for students. I soon found myself connecting with hundreds of people on Facebook - many of whom I did not know from Adam - and rather enjoyed this new virtual social life.

I suspect the same thing was happening in newsrooms - and other workplaces - across Britain, as an older generation decided that if the kids were finding it impossible to run their lives without Facebook, it must be worth trying. That all helped propel Mark Zuckerberg's company to the top of the social networking league in the UK, with 8.9 million users by the end of 2007. But by then I was already finding that many of my wrinklier Facebook friends had tired of the ceaseless vampire-biting, hugging, poking and other daft aspects of the increasingly cluttered and annoying site. Their status updates started to say "...falling out of love with Facebook" and then they disappeared altogether.

But I see no signs that on the campuses where it all started Facebook fatigue has set in. A few weeks ago I did a story with a student who was having trouble deleting his MySpace account - but when I suggested that he delete his Facebook profile too, he was not keen. For him, and hundreds of thousands like him, a student social life was still dependent on Facebook.

I'm still using Facebook - though less compulsively than before - but I suspect that most of the over-25 age group will now find they can live without it. That still leaves a large core audience, but one that Facebook may find slightly harder to sell to the advertisers on whom its future depends. And that means that $15bn valuation that Microsoft put on the business when it bought a small stake last year looks more fanciful than ever.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 12:45 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • mark wrote:

I have tried to get into Facebook but I have found it quite tedious. i will not be using it agin. Definitely something for the kids!

Whether it's the kids leaving or the older generation - one thing is for sure, social networking is slowing changing the face of the social and business landscape.

Kids who are so used to using social networking tools will soon be entering the marketplace and then the older generation will need to sit up and listen and the way the world operates will start to shift in a way that may end up being quite scary for people who remember a time without the internet.

  • 3.
  • At 01:40 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Paul wrote:

Personally I feel that sites such as Facebook should be offering a mature view that can be used for business and not just pleasure. Kent Connect have created portals for teams that could be replicated on Facebook.

Maybe Facebook should offer a professional identity separate from a personal, all poking, all vampire biting one!

  • 4.
  • At 01:41 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Tim wrote:

At 35, Facebook is one that I can tolerate more and to me it's turned into what Friends Reunited should be now.

The problem is with the more enthusiastic people on there. I get fed up of endless requests to participate in some quiz or decide which of your friends are more attractive. I just like getting back in contact with people.

What I do like is the clean design. It's far more acceptable to us "oldies" than MySpace which by allowing users to skin their pages makes most profiles look like a teen bedroom nightmare. Reminds me of early days of web design when people used to think it was cool to plaster a page with every possible clip art and media with garish design.

  • 5.
  • At 01:54 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Alan James wrote:

I'm still using it, but more and more just to play Scrabulous.

My guess is that it's the constant spam from other peoples applications that's driving people away. The Facebook group "Official Facebook Petition: To ban the inviting of friends on Applications" now has over 600,000 members and at least 100,000 of those, like me, joined in the last 3 days.

  • 6.
  • At 02:10 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • George Chennell wrote:

Facebook. What a wonderful amalgamation of many facilities the internet has to offer. It gets a trite boring though after a few years. I joined sometime in 2006 or 2005 as a student and it seems pointless at first... and then it was the best thing since the internet.. and then it was a waste of my time but I couldn't get off when I was supposed to be writing up my final year project (I even joined a group for late-night facebookers).

Then came the dreaded applications. That is why it has become unpopular. Over 1/2 million users have joined a group "this has got to stop" or even the petition for facebook to remove the need to invite people on to applications... why? It was not seen as being a popularity contest in the first place like bebo or other networking sites!!! Take that away and the popularity will stop declining.

Perhaps its just peaked though.

  • 7.
  • At 02:31 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • JDEdward wrote:

I like to think I am a kid - I'm 21 and at Uni. Facebook was never a big thing until last year (my third year) when all of a sudden everyone I knew was pestering me to be on Facebook. So I signed up.

The trouble is that none of us can be bothered to poke/super poke/bite/hug or whatever else to each other virtually. I was shocked when I signed in a few months ago to find a load of stuff friends had added to my profile without me knowing.

I just find its all a bit difficult to use. I prefer that very old fashioned phone call or meeting up for a drink. Facebook is great if you have the time and the will to use it. I don't have either and I can not be bothered to try. I will log in when friends poke me etc but it is probably too difficult to try to cancel it so I will just let it collect digital dust and wait for it to die slowly on its own!

  • 8.
  • At 02:38 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • drew wrote:

I just deleted my facebook account despite a large number of my friends still using it. I'm hoping for a large facebook backlash. It will be amusing to see Microsoft looking silly if nothing else!

  • 9.
  • At 02:41 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Scott wrote:

I use facebook but i just got bored of it. It started as talking to people through the wall and through private messages, now I dont really get anything cos the fascination wore off. All I get now is 1001 application requests for "I want to see you naked" and "what kind of kisser are you". Yawn.

Great post. I think for myself, I am using Facebook less and less. It's a good way to manage your contacts. Other than that I don't use it for much. I never understood how they made so much in advertising. The only ad I can remember that is being posted on their site is from the University of Phoenix, and I would never use their service.

I started updating my status with messages like "bored of Facebook" about 3 months back and I was of the opinion that I was the only one. But what a surprise! And yes its too cluttered and annoying. I have out grown the mindless pokes and bites! Nice idea at first but I guess that was it. Its a month+ since I logged into Facebook

  • 12.
  • At 04:44 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

For certain uses Facebook is both useful and provides definite benefits to the consumer, but the majority of functions especially applications are dull and have no lastability. As with most internet phenomenon, time is telling and the consumer roots out poor ideas. The social networking idea will continue to evolve, but more than likely away from Facebook into more disreet, fragemented networks...

  • 13.
  • At 04:50 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Hamish wrote:

I'm not so sure it's over - sure the initial hype has now died away, but that happens with all things. It doesn't mean it's over. If the role of a social networking site needs to be to keep its membership in a perpetual state of excitement, then nothing will win. I think it does serve a useful purpose - it creates a neighbourhood - and an appealing way for people with disparate networks of friends to stay in touch a bit. The hype's over, sure, but name me one thing that sustains that for a long, long time. The thing with the numbers is that people are now presumably using it a bit less - once a week rather than once an hour.

  • 14.
  • At 05:35 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

Initially I found Facebook useful for keeping daily updates with distant friends. Now I simply don't use it because I'm sick and tired of wading through the unwanted application spam. If I want to waste my time on stupid little games or teasers then I'll happily log into or download something that does that, but I don't want it forced on me when I'm trying to network.

  • 15.
  • At 05:39 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • JJ wrote:

Would the fact that more and more workplaces are now banning the website on their networks not contribute to a dip in numbers as opposed to it becoming elss popular?

  • 16.
  • At 05:42 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

Initially I found Facebook useful for keeping daily updates with distant friends. Now I simply don't use it because I'm sick and tired of wading through the unwanted application spam. If I want to waste my time on stupid little games or teasers then I'll happily log into or download something that does that, but I don't want it forced on me when I'm trying to network.

This is just a media hype.

Numbers dropped because it was the Christmas period. They did last year too...

  • 18.
  • At 05:51 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Stuart wrote:

See interesting data on a blog post by Nic Brisbourne of Esprit Capital. Looks like Bebo visits are down too, so maybe it's not just the over 40s who are not being fortified by today's social networking sites?
http://www.theequitykicker.com/

I agree with your take that it's probably the grown-ups that have fled. For college students, Facebook really is an aggregator of news about friends. For most people I know, leaving the site would be akin to throwing away one's digital Rolodex + deleting their email inbox. That's certainly what it's become for me, but then, I got on the site when it was only for college students, and I'm in the U.S.

Incidentally, Facebook very recently added some interesting age setting restrictions... I think we'll be seeing a lot of alcohol companies start to use the site seriously in their online marketing efforts now. Wonder what that means for them if the older people are indeed plotting a mass exodus.

As somebody who is 50+ I find my use of Facebook growing. The big advantage that it has for me is that all the friends that I have made over the years are now spread over the globe and Facebook is an excellent way to keep in touch, share photos etc. Yes the vampire bites can be ignoring but just ignore them as you would junk mail or TV ads. I find my iPod touch particularly useful with Facebook as I can now access all of my Facebook photographs (I have lots!) without having to carry them around with me, even digitally.

  • 21.
  • At 07:41 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Anna Elliott wrote:

I suspect, as others have observed, that the "invite 20 of your friends" spamming technique has prompted a decline in the appeal of Facebook, and that it will continue to do so unless the matter is addressed.

I use Facebook on a daily basis as I am studying on a Masters programme that requires students to have an account. It works very well for that purpose and I am happy to continue using it. However, the constant invites have become tiresome - it makes the question over the future of Scrabulous all the more disappointing as there was a genuine application where you just invited those you thought were ACTUALLY interested, to a game!

I find myself automatically going for the "ignore" option on these invites now. It's a shame as I would be interested in looking at some of them, but I don't want to spam my friends, and I don't want to risk the application spamming my friends without my knowledge once I have clicked into the programme and decided that in retrospect I'm not interested... I still shudder at the horror of finding out that my tutor had been "invited" by "me" to take part in one of those biting / poking type activities!

I tried Myspace about a year ago but I couldn't quite figure out what it was for. Honest. In another more recent attempt to "get with it" I started using Facebook...

As a writer i find it a useful scrapbook for collecting other stuff from around the web. Much nicer than using Favorites in the browser. Scrabulous is about the coolest thing there at the moment. I want to start playing poker with my friends but i'm kind of thinking i won't have enough time to devote to it.

Can't say for me, that its been great for serious social networking. There aren't that many relevant Networks and the ad-hoc Groups tend to be very un-engaging. My younger friends tend to point out that i've missed the point about Facebook and Myspace. They are far more active and make new friends at an amazing rate. I never considered myself as someone who lacked social skills until now!

I find Blogs and Forums are still where it’s at for serious engagement. Personally i miss starting a revolution down the pub, like we did in the old days.

  • 23.
  • At 08:28 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Reid wrote:

I use facebook simply to get away form all the "enlarge your (insert body part here)" ads that seemed to get through my spam filter on gmail. And with the advertisement issue neither me nor anyone of my peer group has bough something online or even really looks at the ads.

  • 24.
  • At 09:33 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Evan wrote:

It's definitely wearing a bit thin because of the "Applications," but I feel a bit locked in because that's the social network where my friends are.

It's hard to leave social applications for technically better ones because of that inertia, unfortunately. That's why I'm still running AIM every day.

  • 25.
  • At 10:26 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Erik wrote:

I still use facebook but I have deleted all my applications.

I think the problem with it its the amount of applications and the fact that in order to use them you have to invite other people.

If they only had 30 apps available (best ones by people's choices) and didnt force people to invite friends then I am sure it would still be popular.

All I use facebook for now is to post stories about how facebook is terrible/failing/boring/annoying!

  • 27.
  • At 10:47 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Paul Farmer wrote:

Facebook is generally not used by "little kids".. I find the majority of younger kids don't use it as they find it a bit complicated and not as "fun".

The majority of younger teenagers, 10 - 16 year olds use bebo and myspace. The majority of facebook users are university / college students.

Paul

  • 28.
  • At 12:45 AM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Nelson wrote:

I think that it will be used far more casually. It is still by far the best way to keep in touch with old friends and find out what they are doing.

Something that you failed to mention in your otherwise really interesting article is the great job facebook has done in recent times of getting rid of clutter. Unlike MySpace, they listen to criticism and act on it pretty quickly.

  • 29.
  • At 01:45 AM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Tommy L wrote:

Yes I agreed, a lot of people I know have not been logging into their FB acount as much, ,myself included.

It's becoming annoying, expecially the various useless applications that people add and then sending you stuff via these apps.

Some of the features don't really work either.

  • 30.
  • At 09:54 AM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Alan wrote:

I just found it to be a lazy way of keeping in contact with your friends and co workers. I put it in the same category as instant messaging - sometimes handy, but somewhat impersonal. If I want to see how someone is doing, I'll call them, or wander over to their desk these days.

Sure, initially I was hooked, but these days the site just doesn't have any appeal (for me, at least)

  • 31.
  • At 10:11 AM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Mitch Kent wrote:

There is a way around a lot of the problems people face with the annoing applications that many seem not to know about. When you get an invite, go to the main page of the application. I believe it is on the bottom right, there is a link "Block this application". Never hear from that app again!

  • 32.
  • At 12:55 PM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Jon wrote:

FB is now seriously annoying.

Rather like Homer Simpsons attempt at a web page as 'Mr X' its just full of annoying applications that every one adds and never uses

*bored*

The answer to anyone who doesn't like many of the things Facebook has to offer is to just take from it what you want. I want what Facebook was to start with - a way to organise events, publicise them, keep in touch with what friends are doing (especially those the other side of the world), and remind me about birthdays.

Yes, the applications are often annoying, but some are useful or at least briefly diverting. It's more a matter of being selective, and not caring if you have to delete a whole bunch of unwanted requests every couple of months.

  • 34.
  • At 06:43 PM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Gopi R wrote:

I am an MBA student who joined facebook 2 weeks ago because all my classmates are there. I have been trying to add as many contacts to my friends list. I personally prefer LinkedIn. It is more professional and useful I think - at least for older people who are trying to network for business or education.

  • 35.
  • At 08:08 PM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Paul Kerton wrote:

I think this may have more to do with the disaster that is Facebook apps, which require you to sign up 20 people and spam people whilst using them, rather than the idea of communicating with your friends and family. The apps, and Facebooks privacy policy, is intrusive and annoys many people. I spend too much time on their ignoring requests from useless and pointless apps than using it as a communication tool

  • 36.
  • At 09:04 PM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

I joined facebook a few months ago, as a way to keep in touch with friends - especially those living in other countries - and to have some fun withthe aplications etc. Being 40 plus like so many I am finding that social networking is progressing far beyond something "for the kids" and is becoming a tool as essential as email. Facebook is a great organizer and sort of "living rolodex" and of course a great way to find contacts but it lets down on the social interaction part - vampire bites and hugs etc are cute but really you are restricted to email-like interactions and having a sort of mini webserver at your disposal. recently they have introduced real-time chat but it is easier to stick with MSN etc as why re-invent the wheel? Facebook is a great organizer and sort of bulletin board but don't expect it to be more. For real time interactions things are moving towards 3D worlds like second life - after trying that (and yes there is a big big "older" community on second life) the hugs and vampire bites seem - well rather lame.

Another factor may well be the explosion in the number of applications. As people are encouraged to send them to their friends it can sometimes feel like you are being bombarded with useless applications... There are no plain vanilla Facebook profiles now...

  • 38.
  • At 10:02 PM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Simon wrote:

let's be completely honest here. facebook should have remained as a social networking site designed/geared towards students at universities. and when it did open up (if it had to) it should never have allowed new applications to be added, such as superpoke, how hot am i or what's my strippername?

Facebook's 15 billion "valuation" by Microsoft was just a ploy by Facebook to make it seem like the company was worth *WAY* *WAY *WAY* more than it actually was.

Microsoft only bought the stake at a ridiculously over-inflated price because in return they got exclusive advertising rights.

  • 40.
  • At 12:12 PM on 24 Feb 2008,
  • Di Dupree wrote:

I found it interesting that one of the comment above does not remember seeing much advertising on Facebook. Its not ads they are selling, but information on users. The info itself on trends in apps. where people go from FB, where they come from etc. is valuable to advertisers. Every person registering has to agree to the FB terms and conditions yet how many of us have actually read them?

Facebook Privacy Policy - "Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience." [http://www.facebook.com/policy.php]

As someone said previously, it's a seasonal Y-o-Y drop happening.

And if you don't like invites for applications, just ignore them, or message the person in question and ask them to stop inviting you. As a last resort, if someone is bombarding you with invites, just delete the person!

My rule is to only connect with people to whom I have a work or personal connection with, and not just add random people. I also use it in conjunction with LinkedIn for more professional communication, and Twitter for more instant communication. Facebook for me is an informal way to check out gigs, photos, nights out with friends etc...

I think also that the amount of noise made about it has lead to many more employers blocking it - one of the primary reasons I so rarely log on nowadays is that I can't do it in my lunch-hour. Perhaps when the next big thing comes along you could all keep it a little quieter :)

  • 43.
  • At 02:56 PM on 25 Feb 2008,
  • Wendell wrote:

Here in the States, marketing firms are seeing Facebook as a viable place to pin-point an audience of a certain demographics or interest. My company was approached by a firm with an idea to use Facebook as a recruitment tool for hard to fill positions in healthcare.

They seem to think that they can advertise to a select group by establishing themselves on Facebook and pin-pointing certain schools that train students for these positions. If this succeeds, Facebook could become a parallel web that competes with the internet for advertising dollars and attention.

Time will tell if Facebook will last long enough to make this new marketing trend successful.

  • 44.
  • At 04:12 PM on 25 Feb 2008,
  • Olu wrote:

Personally I use facebook but i have noticed a decline on just how much i have used it in the past few months. I think this has to do with me no longer being at university, therefore i don't seem to have as much stuff to do on it as i used to. Also i think now with all the unwanted stuff on it, it can be a burden. However I have started to slowly configure my facebook to block all the extras i don't want, but this is a process that not many people will want to go through nor should they have to.

I think facebook still has a lot of positives, like its clean interface. I use it mainly to keep in contact with friends and let them know what i am up to, and its definitely better than email in that respect. I think facebook will settle and go back to being what it was originally for.

This post is closed to new comments.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC.co.uk