Rory Cellan-Jones

Facebook over? Only in Islington

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 13 Jun 08, 16:34 GMT

Facebook has made it to number one in the world's social networking league. That at least is the verdict of comscore, which says that a year of extraordinary growth has pushed Facebook ahead of MySpace in terms of users.

Facebook pageWhich may come as something of a surprise to those who got excited about all that poking and scrabbling during a brief flirtation with Facebook last year - but thought it had gone the way of the hula hoop and CB radio.

As someone who got heavily - perhaps obsessively - involved in Facebook a year ago, I can't help noticing that it seems to have gone very quiet lately. I still use it quite regularly, but many of the 400 or so people in my personal network seem to have given up on it, with most of the tech crowd heading off to Twitter instead. A day ago I sent a poll to all of these "friends" asking them whether they were still around and whether they visited Facebook more than once a week. So far only a handful have responded, which suggests that either they have left Facebook, or that they are bored witless with pointless polls.

But a better indication may be that only around a quarter of my friends have updated their Facebook statuses in the last 24 hours, whereas a year ago there was a ceaseless flow of "news" about their activities. Like all journalists, I tend to extrapolate from my personal experience - but I think in this case I'd be wrong. While the middle-aged media folk in London may have moved on to something else, it seems Facebook is still growing in popularity amongst the young.

When I visited Dundee University last week, a student told me it was still seen as an indispensable part of campus social life. But it's the rapid spread of Facebook amongst young professionals in countries like India which has helped it to the number one spot. One US blogger is questioning whether these users are as valuable to advertisers as networkers in America - where MySpace is still well ahead - but I don't imagine Facebook will be too fussy after a year which has seen it become a global brand.

MySpace is responding today with a revamp of its home page - out next week - and is promising what it calls "a summer of innovation". It sounds as though the network has heard the calls for a cleaner, less complex interface, with a promise that you will be able to change the look of your profile with one click.

But it seems to me that the social networking scene is settling down into separate camps. The very young are with Bebo. The music crowd is still on MySpace. The obsessive technophiles are on Twitter - latest Tweet from one sad West Coast blogger: "I have 3,500 unanswered direct messages. Please do not send more." But the mass of students and young professionals seem to be gravitating towards Facebook. It may be "over" in the coffee-bars of Islington, but from Manchester to Mumbai, Facebook marches on. All it needs to do now is start selling serious amounts of advertising - which may be more of a challenge.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks very much for an interesting article.

    To add another perspective, despite the discussion of Comscore numbers, Facebook themselves measures its success on their "Active User" number - that is the number of users that have not only logged into their account but have then taken an action (Comscore merely measures the number of people that have hit the URL). That's accounts for figures from Facebook that claim around 80m active users worldwide (Comscore says 115m), and around 11m in the UK (Comscore says 14m).

    Contrary to what is suggested in your article, the Active User number in the UK continues to rise - and this is not necessarily being driven by the young. The older segments (primarily 25-34) is the fastest growing segment, and currently makes up over a third of Facebook users in the UK. In the UK more people over 25 use Facebook than are under 25. (The global picture is different).

    Personally, I agree with you and I have seen much heavier users become quieter on Facebook (early adopters), but they have been replaced with a lot more "friends" who may not use it as much, but I interactive with more than I did before Facebook. There are also people that 6 months ago I would never have thought would have used Facebook.

  • Comment number 2.

    i really don't understand why people like these so called social networking sites, i tried facebook, myspace and bebo for i month then closed the accounts due to having to clear my email in box of useless spam every day all caused by them

  • Comment number 3.

    OT: Rory, do you mind my commenting on the design of this blog?

    There's far too much white unused space on the right, and I think it would look better to have the blog entries either centered, or just left of center (*resists BBC politics joke*).

  • Comment number 4.

    Personally I don't see these web sites as a "craze" - if you see them as that, then of course they will fail.

    To me, and the way I use it, facebook is as much a craze as paper, books or email.

    As a tool for sharing photos, staying in contact with distant (and/or otherwise lost) friends and easily sending messages and organising parties and other social events, facebook is superb. Far from just a pointless craze.

    Simplicity and basicness (if only that were a word...) are the name of the game. Most of the annoying applications I've blocked now so what time I spend on facebook is both enjoyable and clutter-free.

  • Comment number 5.

    @raven2751 I have over 300 friends on my facebook, and due to the excellent anti spam tools I get close to zero spam. Further to that I also don't get from updates from "friends" that I either don't really like or am just not interested in.

    I think that boom is definitely over, but now it appears people are using facebook as a much more steady way of keeping in touch. People aren't spending hours a day on it, and people arn't using so many pointless apps. It seems that the basic features like status, photos, videos and the wall are coming back to being the main focus.

    As for Twitter I joined about a month ago and love it. But I don't know anyone else that uses it. Summize, the twitter tracking website, is in particular an amazing tool. But to be honest most of us boring people don't have a lot to write.

    The sooner MySpace pops its clogs the better. That is spam central and is as ugly as hell. They have left it a bit late in my opinion to make a nice simple interface.

  • Comment number 6.

    Facebook is to Chatting
    Groovycart is to Selling
    What do you think?
    Maybe one day!

  • Comment number 7.

    This is just a quick response to comment 2 - there are actually settings on facebook which allow you as a user to block emails from the site, so you only recieve notifications when you log on to your profile. Disabling these emails cleared my inbox, and also made using the site worthwhile; if you get an email telling you that someone has posted a comment, you can just email them directly rather than use the site itself, which might explain why regular user numbers are in decline, as recieving notifications via email renders the actual site redundant. Facebook allows me to correspond with friends and family in other countries in an unusual, fun and whimsical way, which is how our relationships are in real-life! Applications like SuperPoke are completely useless, but, like the entire site itself, designed for entertainment and procrastination purposes. I left MySpace as it seemed to be more of a site for networking and also none of my close friends were on it, which made it pointless.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think facebook use is now diluted, so the social networking is less polarized and probably more catagorised.... people network with their own crew.

    Instead of having a situation where you are either myspace of facebook you are now either myspace, facebook, bebo, orkut, dodgeball, gardenfriend, caravanwheeler etc etc

    Guy Cross

  • Comment number 9.

    Facebook is a clique; you join and 'friends' you don't even know want to list you but then fail to communicate with you, why? 'cos they're busy networking and other contemporary busy lifestyle stress related stuff.

    Really sad to find that some that do message say they're too busy to message people, a thinly veiled sense of busy here meaning too self important. These networks feed this sense of a lack of consideration of others.

  • Comment number 10.

    In response to lwujonon: Quote: "Contrary to what is suggested in your article, the Active User number in the UK continues to rise - and this is not necessarily being driven by the young. The older segments (primarily 25-34) is the fastest growing segment, and currently makes up over a third of Facebook users in the UK. In the UK more people over 25 use Facebook than are under 25. (The global picture is different)."

    What makes you think we are older? 25 to 34 isn't old at all. I have my high school teachers and uni professors that are closer to 60 as FB friends. Those people are older, but 25 isn't old at all. 25 to 34 segment is probably the biggest consumer market in the world. No kids, no family, all the income is spent on products. Advertisers dream target, if you ask me.

  • Comment number 11.

    I know that the UK profile of Facebook users is older than the profile of US users because ComScore and Facebooks own figures tell us so. It's mainly due to the fact that the rise of Facebook in the US is grounded in the college foundations which didn't exist here in the UK.

    And when I say older, it's in response to the debate (which is slowly dying) that social networking is just for kids (13-21). Granted that segment drives the huge time spent and huge volumes of page views of Facebook (they have more time, more friends and more social), but in terms of unique visitors they are by no means the majority anymore.

    The fact that the demographic breakdown for Facebook in the UK is more "older" and the "older segments" are faster growing (and I include the 34-45 in this) is a huge benefit for Facebook over the other major Social Media players, due to, as you point out, the fact that the advertisers dream.

    Unfortunately, despite many 55+ people people on Facebook (according to Comscore, Facebook touches nearly half of all 55+ that are online) the total numbers remain relatively low.

  • Comment number 12.

    Interesting piece Rory. Don't read any slackening in interest in Facebook or MySpace as the party being over for social networking though. Whereas these two have opened up our eyes to social networking, the next wave is more focused sites appealing to specific needs or interest groups. These offer much more relevance for users and a richer bounty for advertisers who, of course, fund all this useful stuff so we don't have to.

    Interest for our UK-based business lead and referral network at as word gets out there. We already have people importing their business contacts from other sites -- and the biggest social graph anyone has, which is their e-mail address book.

  • Comment number 13.

    Social networking sites have a ring of the internet (social) butterfly, maybe people will flit over to twitter today but the long term success of these sites is far from sorted.

    Didn't we do all of this in the late 90's with friends reunited?

  • Comment number 14.

    Internet 'fads' come and go. I remember a few years ago how everyone was joining friendsreunited and raving about it. I would guess that most of those people haven't visited the site for years and probably never will do again.

    In ten years time people will be saying "Do you remember facebook?"


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