Is it just me, or is Facebook becoming…passe? You wouldn’t think one of the fastest-growing companies in history, a social media powerhouse on its way to 1 billion worldwide users this year, would be showing signs of decline. But a closer look shows that Facebook’s growth rate is slowing in the U.S. and cracks are beginning to appear in its foundation. Can Mark Zuckerberg right his ship, or is the site destined to join AOL, MySpace, and Napster in the technology graveyard in the cloud?
Fonzie on water skis, in a scene from the Happy Days episode "Hollywood, Part Three of Three," after literally jumping over a shark.
The term “jumping the shark” refers to the point in time where a product begins its inevitable decline that is beyond its recovery. It’s the beginning of the end, when the product has moved so far beyond the initial factors that made it successful in the first place, outliving its freshness and importance to the point of irrelevance. The term originates from a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the 70’s TV series Happy Days where a water-skiing Fonzie, wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a shark, answering a challenge to demonstrate his bravery.
So why might it be all downhill from here for Facebook?
1) No more long lost friends. When Facebook first arrived on the scene in 2005, its initial appeal was the instant ability to re-form life connections that had long been lost. High school friends, distant cousins, and former co-workers came out of the woodwork, and the world was in a nostalgic mood. It was nice to know that your former high school sweetheart was a grandparent, four times over. Fast-forward six years and your friends list is probably the same size as it was then.
2) Design changes. Aside from making new friends and keeping the old, the other feature that kept you coming back to the site was Facebook’s wall. The magic formula of content and status updates that was relevant to you became Facebook’s secret sauce — and the algorithm used to determine what showed on your feed was more closely guarded than Col. Sander’s secret herbs and spices. Somehow it all made sense, the content was relevant, and you just had to check the wall 10 times an hour. These days, Facebook has been killing itself with innovation. Whether the motivation has been to add fresh features, make the site profitable, or keep up with emerging competitors, the news feed just doesn’t zing anymore. Timeline, chat, and privacy settings have all gone through massive redesigns from the original functionality. For the average consumer, the introduction of feature after feature has simply bogged down the user experience.
3) Maybe our interests aren’t so common after all. Keeping tabs on your circle of friends is what it’s all about. A funny status message here, a heartfelt photo there…everything’s great, right? But as people have become more adept with social media communication tools and as mobile phones provide instant access, some of our conversational filters have gone by the wayside. Especially in an election season, it’s easier than ever to hide behind the social media wall and post provocative, denigrating, or flatly wrong messages. Need proof? Check The 40 Absolutely Worst People In America and try not to vomit.
4) Other sites are better for news. Granted, Twitter and Facebook serve different purposes, but if you want breaking news as it happens or are trolling the web for something to catch your interest, your time is much better spent reading your Twitter feed. Twitter’s platform is faster, cleaner, and easier to scan…and it’s searchable. That doesn’t make Twitter more fun, just more useful. Content aggregators such as Huffington Post and mobile apps like Flipboard allow you to customize content that you want to see, filtering out the stuff you don’t. Users are catching on, but Facebook is lagging behind.
5) Other apps are more fun. Whereas you used to check your Facebook feed at every stop light, now you play Words with Friends. Whereas you used to harvest your crops on Facebook’s Farmville, now you kill pigs on Angry Birds. This intangible obstacle may be Facebook’s biggest challenge, because it’s simply the natural result of a product’s life cycle. People get tired and bored with the same old stuff, and a newer, shinier object emerges…which causes the product to attempt “enhancements” to keep your business (see #2 above).
So, long story short…does this apparent decline mean I’m going to stop using Facebook? No, not quite yet. For now, it’s still the best way to share information — or in my case, photos of my wedge salads – as well as links to great content with your circle of friends.
After all…I just updated my status with a link to this blog post.