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I normally don't comment on this sort of thing, but I received numerous links to Virginia Heffernan's vacuous NYT article titled Facebook Exodus. It must have been a very slow news day. By Virginia's own admission at the top of paragraph two, Facebook is growing at a furious rate. ComScore puts last month's unique visitors at 87.7 million and monthly growth at over 20%. To what exodus is she referring? Virginia cites the following random examples, apparently from a local Amish retirement home, as evidence of this "exodus":

  • One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her.
  • An early faction lost faith in 2008, when Facebook’s beloved Scrabble application, Scrabulous, was pulled amid copyright issues.
  • "If I am going to waste my time on the Internet," she concluded, "it will be playing in online backgammon tournaments."
  • “Facebook was stalking me,” Harting wrote. One day, on another Web site, she responded to an invitation to rate a movie she saw. The next time she logged on to Facebook, there was a message acknowledging that she had made the rating.
  • He says, not entirely in jest, that he considers it a repressive regime akin to North Korea...
  • I think Facebook made me sterile.

OK, OK, I made up the last one, but the rest are quotes from the article. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Facebook isn't going to suffer too much from the loss of these individuals, and that they do not represent a mass exodus from the world's largest social network. NYT: I expect better from you. That was five minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Certainly there will be a slowing of growth as Facebook reaches saturation of the socially inclined web browsing population. I imagine there will be a real world 1.0 reawakening as the novelty wears off and people who are currently Facebook obsessed find a healthier balance. There is no doubt that we are in the middle of the adjustment period inevitably required when sociologically disruptive technologies are introduced. The same thing happened with the telephone, which was never adopted by certain demographics when it was introduced. The social norms surrounding such technologies evolve over time, as do the technologies themselves. That being said, Facebook, a network that counts more than 1% of the earth's population as members, isn't going away anytime soon. If the company stays reasonably agile, its enormous user base will carry it for many years. If it is replaced, it will be by a newer, shinier and more distributed social technology, perhaps with better isolation between friends, family and business associates. For all its warts, Facebook has changed the way we communicate and there is no going back.


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Comment by GB Hajim on September 6, 2009 at 11:06am
It seems to me that most papers (which are dying) write articles like this just to stir up interest. Like yesterday's article about the High Tech tax credit program in the Honolulu Advertiser- but they're kicking a dead dog - NYT is kicking King Kong.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on September 6, 2009 at 11:04am
Again, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. If these numbers are to be believed, and I don't think they are (see below), they still don't paint a picture of boomers taking over FB. Although the demographics are clearly skewing older, the 55+ growth rate looks huge expressed as a percent because the base is so small. The growth rate in 35-54, at 190%, is far more significant. To advertisers, this is a good thing, because unlike high school students, these people actually have money.

Additionally, the stair stepping and mass short term fluctuations indicated by this chart seem unrealistic. As noted in the comments, I think we are looking at external short term factors such as graduation cycles. Although Corbett isn't clear on whether his user count is registered users or unique visitors during a given month, if its usage based, its almost certainly due to graduation cycles.

Finally, twice as many people indicated they are 95+ over the past six months. How many of them would you guess are actually 18- ;-)

These numbers aside, my issue with Heffernan's article is that she didn't cite any! She just quoted random nutters and called it an article.
Comment by Ken Mayer on September 6, 2009 at 10:29am
"real" data: http://www.istrategylabs.com/2009-facebook-demographics-and-statistics-report-513-growth-in-55-year-old-users-college-high-school-drop-20/ -- The boomers are catching on and the kids are moving out.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on September 2, 2009 at 1:14am
Tim - I agree. I dumped the NYT in favor of the Economist years ago.

Ken - You are spot on. Virginia provides absolutely no support for her assertion, but it does make for a snappy title :-)
Comment by Ken Mayer on September 2, 2009 at 12:06am
I wonder where the copy editors were when they fact checked the piece. Not a single stat to prove the point, just annecdotes. Whoopeedoodah.
Comment by Timothy Little on September 1, 2009 at 8:32pm
Dan, the word vacuous is, unfortunately, the number one word to describe many of the NYT articles of late. As the behemoth of print media, I'd like more out of the old gray lady.

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