Failing Social Networks

Compete.com shows the decline of Myspace and Facebook popularity. The social network market, still dominated by MySpace, continued to grow exponentially until an October stutter step, the prelude to a December peak. Until this plateau, Facebook was estimated to be worth $15 billion dollars. The October growth halt, the first seen by Facebook, encouraged Zuckerberg to sell a 1.6% stake in the site to Microsoft before the social network bubble bursts (and it will). Operating costs are another factor that leads me to believe Facebook is in dire financial straits.

Last year also showed a dip in Facebook use around the same time (spring break?), but here is why I think we’ve seen a decline in Facebook use: change of intent (or maybe users have gained clarity of what the intent was all along). When Max Zuckerberg launched Facebook, he was simply providing a service to people without ulterior motives. People liked the simplicity and privacy of this social network. I could send a message to my buddy and not worry about what I posted on my wall because only people in my network had the ability to view my profile. Once MySpace sold to Rupert Murdoch for half a billion dollars, Zuckerberg got greedy and Facebook changed from a simple site used to keep in touch with your friends into a corporation out to capitalize on its wealth of consumer information. The new Facebook allowed anyone access to your profile, including employers, marketers, and government officials.

This is when people decided they had enough. A steady decline in Facebook and MySpace use shows that commercial saturation of these sites has superseded their usefulness. I don’t want my employers spying on my social life, I don’t want companies to target me with their advertisements, and I don’t want to deal with all the application “invites” I get when someone that I am not actually friends with in real life adds a new one and doesn’t realize he or she can skip the “tell all your friends about this marketing gimmick” button. Basically, I don’t want to opt into an ad network.

I’m concerned that is essentially what we’ve done. Although its privacy agreement states otherwise, Facebook has been accused of selling personal information; the Beacon application in particular uses your likeness to hock Blockbuster titles to your friends. Facebook recently rolled out new privacy settings, completely changing their interface and removing the ability to preview the limited profile. Facebook now uses a series of (intentionally?) confusing menus. This leads me to believe that Facebook doesn’t want you to hide your profile from the prying cabal of Facebook’s commercial partners because your information is far more valuable to advertisers if they can capture your interests.

Facebook and Myspace are no longer the little niche areas you and your 10 closest friends use to share pictures and silly comments; these sites have become data mines for advertisers. Joining one of these sites and displaying your personal information for the world to see is like asking telemarketers or religious zealots to call your phone 40 times a day. Add me to the do not call list, please.

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2 Responses to Failing Social Networks

  1. Mike Busch says:

    Amen.

  2. Jon says:

    you’re right… if they had left it small scale like craigslist it would have longer term viability, although there is a lot of pressure to open it up for applications, and i do love scrabbleous.

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