Maggie Shiels

The Facebook fizzle

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 28 Jul 09, 09:16 GMT

People leave Facebook every day so what should we read into the high profile exodus of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and home-making queen Martha Stewart?

Bill GatesMr Gates said he quit because managing his profile became "way too much trouble". He also said that he had 10,000 people wanting to be his friend and that he really didn't have the time to sift through all those messages. Besides, he really couldn't tell who was the real McCoy when it came to his friends.

During an event in India, Mr Gates revealed that despite the amazing benefits that the digital revolution has wrought, some technology could turn out to be a real time-waster.

I am not sure if he remembered that Microsoft ploughed a considerable amount of investment into the social networking site or not.

While Bill might have removed his Facebook page, this very fun mock-up by PC World is worth a look.

And another well-kent figure has followed in Mr Gates' footsteps.

Martha StewartAmerica's so-called domestic goddess Martha Stewart talked to the Daily Beast and said "I'm not knocking Facebook. We use both Facebook and Twitter (at Martha Stewart Organisation). They're very different tools, and I personally don't use Facebook. I prefer Twitter as a means of mass communication - it's the Wal-Mart of the internet."

She also said that the reason she prefers the micro-blogging service is that "I don't have to 'befriend' and do all that other dippy stuff that they do on Facebook."

On Twitter, Ms Stewart has over 1.1 million followers. But despite feigning social media nous, Ms Stewart must not be aware that Twitter has a rough worldwide band of users numbering 40 million while Facebook boasts over 260 million.

Twitter might be less hassle but if you want to reach the biggest possible audience, surely being on Facebook makes business sense at least? Or why not both, especially when it seems you have "staff" to take care of the task of posting on the site?

Perhaps the decision of Mr Gates and Ms Stewart to give up on Facebook speaks to something that affects the human psyche.

"While many users are very engaged, perhaps for some people it has become a place that is too noisy and cluttered," said internet analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence.

On a more philosophical level, Mr Sterling told me:

"This reveals something that is hard to articulate, which is that maybe there are limits that have been reached by these people.

"It's the same if you go away for a weekend and there is no internet and pretty soon you realise there is a lot of stuff that is way more important that all the technology you are so involved in. People have to remember these are tools to communicate with and not confuse them with things in our life like our real world communities."

Less prosaically, I have a friend who has also quit Facebook for a pretty simple reason. In an e-mail, she told me "it feels like it's so over?"

For her at least, and for Bill and Martha, it is.


  • Comment number 1.

    Facebook is about keeping in touch with people you know and like. Who cares if some people don't find it meets their needs? It has its uses and Gates' and Stewart's needs are very different from the average Facebook user.

    People read too much into social media - Facebook is just a place to keep in contact with and have a laugh with the people you care about. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Twitter on the other hand is utterly pointless and will be dead in a year.

  • Comment number 2.

    Facebook in "not as good as twitter" shocker. The BBC can exclusively reveal that the thing they were banging on about in every tech blog they publshed last year as being "the most important thing ever", is no longer as important as the web thing they've now been banging on about in every "tech" blog for the past 9 months.

    "'s so over"

    BBC Gossip columnist Maggie Shiels claimed that after a couple of celebrities and her friend stopped using the service it "feels like it's so over" blah blah blah blah survey said blah blah blah blah blah iphone blah blah blah blah blah blah Steve Jobs blah blah blah blah twitter blah blah

    The "tech blogs" on the BBC redefine the term "one dimensional" once again.

  • Comment number 3.

    I cancelled my Facebook earlier in the year and tried to go with Twitter only. The problem? Most of my friends don't tweet.

  • Comment number 4.

    The problem with the tired Facebook vs. Twitter articles is that it's presented by the media itself, for whom Twitter is an obviously better fit - it's a mini-broadcasting service after all. The same goes for celebrities - Twitter is just another way to increase that celebrity. But for the average person on the street, what does Twitter offer? Facebook is, beyond the silly apps, a very useful tool for socialising with people they actually know and see.

    When stats show that a fifth of twitter usernames have never posted a single tweet and 10% of users are responsible for 86% of tweets, you get an idea of how relevant Twitter actually is for the silent majority.

  • Comment number 5.

    Microsoft has another social network app called Messenger which is these days linked to its aggregating app call Windows Live. Will Bill join that now?

  • Comment number 6.

    This is not news.

    Of course Twitter is better for mass-media, thats what its designed for (as was myspace). Facebook is designed for more close-knit personal social connections. I feel sorry for Gates, however he did have the option to turn off the friend request button if he had chosen to do so, though due to facebooks very poor help and navigation system (try as a novice to work out how to create an 'event' for an example) he probably did not even realise that this was an option.

  • Comment number 7.

    This is NOT tech news. Surely a look into the broadband findings is more appropriate for a tech blog.

    Personally I couldn't give a *(insert unnacceptable word)*. Whilst I see the many benifits of Facebook, does it really matter that Bill Gates is no longer a member. Of course, a Twitter angle had to be mentioned as this is a Beeb tech blog.

    Windows Live is a different ball game to Facebook, only reason I have windows live is so I can play GTA online, so I'm hardly a genuine user.

  • Comment number 8.

    Bill Gates left Facebook and then apparently has joined LinkedIn; is he worried about his job security?

    I'm amazed a multi-billionaire is on Facebook in the first place. I can understand why 'he really couldn't tell who was the real McCoy when it came to his friends.' I imagine most of his real-world social group run their own companies and are rich too.
    Otherwise his profile would just become a magnet for stalkers, gold-diggers and those looking for gossip.

    FB a waste of time? Yeah it can be; used more shrewdly it can also be a useful means of keeping in touch with (and limited to) real friends.

  • Comment number 9.

    I challanged the BBC not to mention Twitter in their Tech blog for just one month they couldnt go a day !!!
    The BBC are advertising !!
    This is not Tech news !!
    Maggie Sheils you are based in the Silcon Valley is there nothing else going on over there.
    Does anyone in the BBC read these blogs?
    Has anyone ever seen a reply to any of their questions put on the Tech blog ?

  • Comment number 10.

    #7: I think the word you're looking for is "fig". It appears that Maggie, being based in a warm climate, has plenty to give.

    Facebook is for social networks. Some people's social networking is done in other media, or -- horrors! who'd have guessed?! -- actually face-to-face.

    At least this item has been kept to a blog and not made into "real" news. Or is that tempting fate? Or the editors?

  • Comment number 11.

    Maggie & Rory,

    I think you guys should repost Paul Carr's first article on TechCrunch (more specifically, the Rules). I wonder how many people who complain understand the difference between a blog and a news article and the impetus behind them? My guess is not many.

    Regarding this article, I kind of agree with ashdcuk (#4), there seems to be a 'critical mass' of the number of friends on Facebook you can effectively have. Once you go past that point, it's easier to use Twitter to mass broadcast without the hassle of dealing with friends/events/etc. Maybe Facebook should bring in a (possibly voluntary) friends limit as they had in the beginning?

  • Comment number 12.


    And that's the point - Twitter may have a use as a means of mass distribution of information (well it would if we didn't have mass SMS and e-mail already) but it's pointless for the average punter.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think Twitter is great for fast opinions,but see it's poularity disapearing over the coming year. Facebook is only going to grow and grow with the number of new numbers growing massively everyday is the Asian Market. Microsoft seems to have failed to get in on the social media developments but is making a lot of cool technology as I saw this morning on a new showcase site they have launched called Microsoft Wave.

  • Comment number 14.

    @ Mark _MWFC I totally agree with you, if facebook is used within a realm of all the people you know and like to stay in touch with it can be extremely beneficial to sharing information fast and affectively. self vanity users should stick to myspace.

  • Comment number 15.

    And yet, Facebook remains the biggest social network site. Users leave, but they're not going anywhere. Sure, people are joining Twitter, but that's not comparable. They offer totally different services. This is yet more of the BBC trying to promote Twitter and down rivals. Whilst Mr Gates and Ms Stewart leave Facebook, millions of us stay, interact with our friends and enjoy a healthy, sociable atmosphere. If they want to leave their communities by isolating themselves from important discussion and the organisation of events, who cares? Not news, a surprise, or fair.

  • Comment number 16.


  • Comment number 17.

    There is actually a point to Facebook though...

  • Comment number 18.

    ''What should we read into the high profile exodus of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and home-making queen Martha Stewart" ?

    I don't know? How about, the fact that interesting technology blogs and the people that read them simply don't talk about and care about the opinions and actions of the celebrity classes?

    You were going so well, Rory! Your Twitter addiction seemed to have come to an end! A few good articles about Spinvox and Kingston broadband monopolies, and then right back into the beloved arms of Twitter!

    Look, you and I both know why you're doing this. Why article after article doesn't just mention, it downright advertises and praises Twitter. It's useful to you, as an employee of a broadcasting company, one of the biggest and best in the world. It's perhaps one of the most useful and relevant tools to your profession, and good for it.

    But we aren't journalists, and that is a key distinction here. We don't see Twitter as the greatest and most praiseworthy tool of the 21st century as you do, or even anything near such a weighty title. We see it as many things; a faster replacement for email, a free replacement for the SMS, or a way to broadcast our opinions. Or perhaps, just another nuisance Web 2.0 application to navigate around.

  • Comment number 19.

    Breaking news, worker in iPhone factory farted whilst twitting.

    Please Maggie and Rory do some proper reporting and blogging for once in your BBC blogging careers.

    Who cares who is on farcebook and who is leaving? The only time I would be interested is if one of my friends joined or left farcebook and you're not about to post a blog about that are you?

    As a person who does not have many friends who use farcebook I really do not see what the obsession is with it? If I wish to keep in touch or converse with my friends I go down the pub with them, or round to their house or they come round to my house or we text each other. Farcebook doesn't even enter into the equation and it's a myth imo that it improves your career because you're "connected".

  • Comment number 20.

    @synthil Whilst you're totally right that it is normally Rory extolling Twitter's praises like the call to prayer, this article was in fact written by Ms Shiels. However, she too should know better.

  • Comment number 21.

    Ah, so it was. You know, her last article also marketed the celebrity elite. It's nice to know that Silicon Valley, once a serious institution of highly innovative technological businesses, is now a trampling ground for fashion and celebs. We'll be seeing the Valley on the covers of tabloids and gossip magazines soon.

  • Comment number 22.

    After listening to "The Secret World" on Radio 4, I would have thought Bill Gates would have been pleased to have so many friends.

    I think twitter fits better with the celebrity mentality, the concept of sycophantic follower is better than friend.

  • Comment number 23.

    Facebook is going nowhere, annoying apps aside (which can easily be blocked) it is just to well made to nose dive.

    I have lived on the other side of the world for over 2 years and it feels like I have hardly been away, thanks to the fact I see pics and comments from friends everyday. It feels a lot closer than when I was in the same situation 7 years ago.

    I effectively use it as a spam free replacement to email. I can keep in touch with friends without ever worrying about someone I don't know wanting to contact me.

    Who cares about Bill Gates or that other woman i've never heard of?

    Trashy gossip article...

  • Comment number 24.

    I hardly think that the richest man in the world who presumably has better things to do and a "domestic goddess" (who, I believe is also a convicted criminal and therefore now an ex-convict - just thought I'd drop that in there for effect...) leaving Facebook hardly counts as an "exodus".

    2 people leave Facebook - wow, stop the presses!

  • Comment number 25.

    Twitter seems to be a rather incestuous club for meeja types and people who fancy themselves whereas facebook is for real people living in a real world. Probably why the "celebs" didn't feel at home there.

  • Comment number 26.

    I was going to mention Messenger Live, but someone has already mentioned it. I wonder what Mr Gates thinks of MS products, does he think they are "time wasters" as well? Every single time I log onto hotmail (shall I call it Live?) through IE, the Messenger is started by default. I've disabled auto-login, so I don't actually log into the chat client, but you can see how an ordinary user is made to login without wanting to use any of the chat services.

    As for Facebook, when used correctly it is a good product. I only use it to send messages to my friends and share the odd picture. It's a very good way of keeping in touch with friends and family.


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