Rory Cellan-Jones

Facebook - still in fashion.

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 9 Oct 08, 17:53 GMT

Remember Facebook? You know, that site that everyone was talking about last year? Hopelessly fashionable, and if you weren't on it and friends with about 500 other Facebookers you really felt out of the loop. Of course, that was before the credit crunch came along, sweeping away the London media obsession with the social networking site.

The tech crowd migrated to Twitter, which quickly became the medium of choice for everything from idle chatter to self-promotion to research. I use it for all of those myself and when I used it to asked Twitterers "do you Facebook too?" I swiftly got a rash of answers. Some were still keen, stressing it had a different purpose from Twitter and a different audience, but many expressed a certain weariness with Facebook:

"Twitter is much simpler,,, And I prefer the community feel with Twitter.

"I have a Facebook account but it is never used. I am pretty much exclusively Twitter these days."

"I've used FB for ages. Bored of it now tho"

"I've issues re the fact everyone is yr 'friend' regardless of relationship".

But guess what? While the eary adopters may have moved on, the rest of the country has kept on coming to Facebook. Some recent figures from Nielsen show it has 14 million users in the UK, spending an average of four hours and twenty three minutes a months with the site. That compares with 5.6 million for MySpace, and its users spent just 55 minutes a month there.

Now a year ago the two were neck and neck on around 6 million, so just at the very point when the media decided that Facebook was old hat, it was really beginning to take off. Which goes to show just how easy it is for journalists to assume, wrongly, that everybody is like them. And while Twitter, according to one report, has grown its UK audience fivefold this year and is more popular here than in the US, it's still very much a minority sport.

Facebook is definitely pulling in the crowds - but is it making any money? MySpace may be less popular outside the US but claims that it has been a profitable business since day one, by focussing on boosting advertising rather than membership. But Facebook - which appeared to be poised to win loads of advertising revenue through a host of new applications - may be struggling to deliver on that promise.

I spoke to a UK web developer this week, one of those who'd rushed to create new Facebook applications when the site opened up its platform. He admitted that he'd not made any serious money so far, and wondered whether the network itself was prospering. "The Facebook guys have had to work very hard to convince people to buy their ads," he said. "They're struggling to monetise it."

We hope to find out a bit more about this and other aspects of Facebook when we meet its founder on Friday. We'll be interviewing Mark Zuckerberg, the 24 year old who dropped out of Harvard to build a business that has been valued at as much as $15 billion, when he passes through London. If you've got any questions you think he shoud hear, let us know.


  • Comment number 1.

    Despite being a moderately tech-savvy student with a Twitter account; Facebook remains very much my social networking hub of choice. Why? Because it's what my peers all use (most of which haven't heard of twitter), and networking without anyone to network with just becomes redundant.

    For me, Twitter is just a glorified update-Facebook-status-by-text application at the moment.

  • Comment number 2.

    Facebook is fun. However, you sense it has business issues when those across three generations in a family have to set themselves rules about when/if they can see each others' pages. And who has time to run more than one identity?

  • Comment number 3.

    I like twitter but not one of my 250+ facebook friends use it, so it's useless. The mainstream just doesn't get it, and see facebook as adequate.

    Myspace may have been making money from the start but their intrusive adverts have pushed people away. Facebooks adds are few, and that's what it seems people are going for.

    I think facebook will eventually turn into a shopping center where facebook will also be able to make money from referrals to other shops.

  • Comment number 4.

    They may want to update those stats because my Facebook useage has plummeted since they redesigned it. It's become too complicated (one of the reason I gave up on Myspace).

    I don't seem to be the only one, many of my friends seem to be Facebooking less these days.

  • Comment number 5.

    camholder, facebook more complicated? You must be joking it's far more intuitive now than it was. My facebook useage has gone up considerably since the redesign as I don't get annoyed waiting for the photos to load anymore and I don't have to trawl through ten million apllications to write on someone's wall.
    The reason that myspace became complicated was because they allowed users to design their own page. With applications on facebook it started to become myspace. Now that the apps have been hidden away it's got a nice standard layout and navigation is quick and easy.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm proud to say I still haven't succumbed to the 'charms' of Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking fad. Whenever I see someone looking at Facebook, it always appears to be at an endless and dreary stream of badly taken camera phone pictures (usually, of people drunk at parties or in the pub), shots of weddings, or photos of people's kids and/or pets. Nothing wrong with this, of course: I'm sure that for some, this is what's meant by 'social networking'.

    Personally, I find professional networking sites like LinkedIn both more valuable and more useful. I've also have made many contacts worldwide using specialist topic forums. Given this - plus the fact that I already have the email addresses and phone numbers of all my family and friends - I just can't see why I'd ever want to sign up to Facebook or similar.


  • Comment number 7.

    I only really joined Facebook to invite some old acquaintances to my wedding and to play Scrabulous. Since the latter disappeared I've barely logged in to Facebook and might give Twitter a look at some point.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well I finally succumbed and joined Facebook earlier this week. I like the instant messaging application and find the e-mail system very straightforward to manage. A complete contrast to the non user-friendly my space.

    Of course I have no idea what it was like before the redesign. But I like it.

  • Comment number 9.

    Facebook is handy for keeping in touch with people who've moved away or abroad. It's also handy for sharing photos and the like and advising of events.

    It doesn't need to be complex because it's really just a giant virtual message board.

  • Comment number 10.

    FB is interesting as a social phenomenon and I have a page. The business model is of course advertising and there are people who spend a lot of time parsing what people are talking about just to be able to focus campaigns.

    The 'friends of friends' issues mean that it does not really represent the society is needs to reflect. If anything MySpace seems even worse. I fully expect their clientele to migrate to the next fashion - Twitter or whatever - but frankly I am not too interested in whether someone is making a cup of tea or watching telly.

    As far as I can see, all these things are just recipes for people to spend too much time on trivia and not enough actually meeting people. In other words they are avoidance mechanisms that leave people locked up in their rooms doing things that they think are private but in fact are public.

  • Comment number 11.

    Facebook on my iPhone is brilliant. Nuff said.

  • Comment number 12.

    I've recently joined Facebook, find it useful, and had never heard of Twitter till I read this. So I guess I illustrate exactly what Rory is saying. I wouldn't join anything with such a stupid name as'Twitter' either. What do you call people who are on it - Twits?

  • Comment number 13.

    I joined a few years ago in my second year of university. Back then it was open only to university students, and university networks had to be set up properly. Not all UK uni's were on there, and it was perfect. You could keep in touch with all uni friends, and the best bit was someone who was out at the union with you, putting up a photo album and tagging everyone in it.

    I'll be honest, I've found the fun diluted a bit with the introduction of 'Anyone can join...' but I'm sure it made far more business sense to do so.

    The introduction of applications was a disaster. Whereas many people's myspace pages were cluttered, messy and just awful. Facebook gradually became that, I'd get over a dozen invites for using applications a day. I'd go to people's profiles and it would be so slow and take ages to look through it with all the applications.

    The new system has certainly combated these problems. You only have to see the applications of another member if you want to, which I am sure is very rare.

    I'll keep using it, and can't see changing to be honest. The chat thing, when it works, is brilliant. Just very erratic, and if worked consistently, would really top it all off.

    Summary: Wish it was still for uni/school/college go-ers only.

  • Comment number 14.

    Twitter is great. Where else can I spout off about nonsense to people I don't know without feeling like I'm making a dick of myself.

    Facebook, on the other hand, is just a big pile of poo. It's just the Web 2.0 version of 90s AOL, and is against the fundamental ethos that the Net should be open and free, not a gated community.

    BTW: if anyone wants to follow me twittering on about nothing in particular, they can do so at -->

  • Comment number 15.

    Thats why I prefer something like rather than Facebook - its far more simpler to use.. I hate the applications on Facebook, it's WAY too complicated, I hate the fact I can't have a URL to give to friends and family.. and as for MySpace, is that a professional website? It looks like something a bunch of students have done.

    I'm not so much into twitter, I think it's a very short term 'fashionable' thing..

    Just give me a site thats simple to use, not invasive, gives me a URL and has the power of myspace and facebook without the crap and THAT is why I love!

  • Comment number 16.

    I've been using FB for about a year - largely because someone in work was on it all day when they should have been working. We eventually blocked FB during working hours. While that was annoying I'm grateful to them, because one of FB's advantages is that people use their real names, and so I managed to track down a person and message them, and got back into contact with his sister, whom I hadn't seen in 15 years. We're now rekindling a relationship together after he sent me her phone number.

    I too am a bit annoyed by the layout change, but can see that it is a compromise of more mess on the 'wall' for less mess overall. I tend just to follow the feeds on the home page. I've hooked up with a lot of old acquaintances and friends, and this is a result of it not being just the jocks at the uni.

  • Comment number 17.

    I use FB a little, my wife uses it more, mainly as a pseudo flickr uploading photos and making them available for family/friends not on FB rather than emailing huge volumes of pics.

    I liked FB but since the recent forced new look has taken my twitter feed off the front page of my profile and hid it in "boxes" along with my geocache stats etc. I'm finding what I might want others to readily see is no longer directly visible, so while it gets the occassional update it is fading in my daily attendance.

  • Comment number 18.

    I was on facebook early when I came to University and im still with it now im coming for the final year.

    I explored other options like twitter when the new layout was phased in, but twitter hasnt been taken up in the same way facebook has which makes it pointless. Seems a bit like a big status updater too.

    Facebook is going to be relevant into the next few years, until its beaten down by a better version, its the choice students make for socialising, work organisation and even Student Unions are begining to use it for official business.

    I for one, am glad to see the media talk a lot less about facebook. I found the bright eyed hack's thinking they were onto something new using it in news reports really rather irritating.

  • Comment number 19.

    i am not lying, trust me... this is the first time i heard about twitter... i used to use hi5, and created my facebook account some 8 months back... today i cancelled my hi5 account for much obvious reasons...

    i am don't know about the business model, whether its working or not, but then the networking model is really ticking on... almost all of my friends are here and have increased in the recent months...

  • Comment number 20.

    I reckon Facebook is the best social networking site. I have used many others too but hardly could find any friends or had an invitation :S . Facebook is still growing and also growing in countries we havent even thought of including all where internet access is rare. Friends get connected on facebook for getting in touch and contacting, other social networks especially Orkut has started copying features of FB. So I left all other Network sites. Yes I do admit I have also gotten a bit bored of FB, but at the end of the day I am in touch with friends and family. :) So even even if you are a new user or an old one trust me you wont loose hope on facebook, althought FB interface has been changing and some people have actually left it, but all work is done for members of Facebook. The best part on FB I like is Privacy , now you dont have to worry if someone can view your profile.

  • Comment number 21.

    Facebook has had it's day and I think that it can't sustain the level of growth. FB relied on viral marketing and created a kind of fad or cult with people who just joined it because everyone else did. Like with any fad, there will always be another website or medium that will draw people to it. You have to wonder if Facebook will ever reach it's $15 billion price tag that Mark Zuckerberg gave it!


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