It’s a pheonemon. An icon. A film. An obsession. An ideology. A person’s name. And it just lost 7.8 million users.
That’s according to Inside Facebook, which might claim to know a thing or two about Zuckerburg’s world-changing invention. The news has caused an orgasm of navel-gazing articles on the digital society and the hubris of the service, with lots of journalists asking if this is the beginning of the end. To which the answer is no, it’s not, stop being stupid.
Couple of important things to note. Firstly, this is just one month, and that ain’t a trend, so simmer down. Secondly, overall growth for the service is still on the up, with 11.8m worldwide users signing up in May. Month-on-month growth has slowed from an average of 20m per month in the last year, but there are lots of reasons why that might be:
Bugs in the Facebook advertising tool that we draw this information from, seasonal changes like college graduations, and other short-term factors, can influence numbers month to month and obscure what’s really happening.
Indulging the numbers for a moment, I’d venture that summer sees people away from their PCs more – which is why it’s known as the dry season in the gaming industry. Folks are up and out enjoying the weather, not inside at a screen. Given that Facebook accounts for more of people’s web time than anywhere else, it’s unsurprising that less time online = less time for Facebook = less signups.
I also think that saturation plays a part. Facebook reaches almost half of the entire adult US population, or 71% of US web users. That’s a lot of people! Considering that this is the entire adult population, including the very old, there are probably very few people within the net savvy generation without accounts. This is corroborated in part by analysis into demographic growth, which usually identifies the newest users as over-50′s. So the numbers make a lot of sense: younger adults pretty much all have accounts, and older people are acquiring them.
Another interesting observation is that the decline in growth comes from only first world countries (well, and Russia) – UK, Canada and US. We’ve had the service the longest and we’re also adopting Twitter the fastest. Coincidence? I don’t think so – I know more than a few people who have more or less wholly migrated to the blue bird. Twitter has a slow takeup rate compared to its awareness, but it’s growing and I think will continue to grow. So it should come as no surprise, therefore, that Facebook has just revealed that it wants to eat Twitter’s lunch. It stands to cause big problems to the microblogging service, but will have its own issues – and that’s another post.
Oh, and privacy concerns? Maybe the facial tracking pushed some over the edge. But I doubt it’s enough to lose 4% of its US base.
Let’s return to those numbers. There are way too many fucking infographics for this stuff, but I like this series:
As demonstrated, Facebook doesn’t need to worry about shedding white western types. It’s doing just fine taking over the rest of the world. The company is still going to hit 700m users soon: it broke Mexico, it broke MENA, and it may be a BRIC-breaker yet if that Baidu collaboration pays off – we’ll have to see.
Of course, this approach is short-sighted and Facebook isn’t dumb, which is why they’re rolling out that Twitter competitor. And then there’s this. Facebook partners with RockMelt on building a social web browser, says the FT. Well. What a surprise!
Wait, actually, that’s not surprising at all.
Just like nobody believes that Facebook isn’t going to build an ad network (#1 display server in the US in 2015? Count on it), it would be foolish to think that Facebook is going to be content to sit within the remit of ‘just’ being the world’s biggest social network. It’s already got its own phones, its own commerce and currency (which is about to do something huge), and if Rockmelt can actually improve its goddamn GUI and market itself better, it may well have a browser – not to mention all the Facebook API-enabled software that blings out Firefox, Chrome, et al.
What Facebook have consistently been moving towards is a way to provide the basis for an online identity. That’s a philosophical/ideological belief of Zuckerberg, by the way, who might just have some sway with this sort of policy (much to Zadie Smith’s dismay). You only need to look at Facebook connect, or Facebook comments, to see this already happening. It’s am ambitious plan, but it makes a lot of sense.
Facebook wants to be to your web experience what Paypal is to online payments. A one-stop, preconfigured, social solution to website account integration. They not only want to beat Twitter at its own game, but also retain the kind of next-gen users who have defected to the microblogging way. They want to be an integral part of the web as HTTP protocol. When growth finally does peter off (in, like, 2025), Facebook want to be in the position to carry on trucking as though nothing ever happened, in control, with their platform underpinning the entire social infrastructure of the web.
And it might very well work.