Sometimes we in the media get carried away by the news of the day, and draw hasty conclusions that turn out all wrong. Take Facebook and the rise of social networking sites such as MySpace. Because they are the province of the young, we assume their tastes are fickle and that these sites will be hot today, gone tomorrow.
In the case of MySpace, researcher comScore recently found that more than half the visitors to the site were now 35 years old and over — up from less than 40% being that age last year. And Facebook, the more closed social networking site for college and high school students and alumni, now has a third of its audience in the 35 to 54 age bracket, a percentage that will likely rise now that they have opened their doors to anyone to join. (NOTE: An update below from social researcher danah boyd refutes this study as being inaccurate.)
Facebook also recently upset its users with a “News Feed” feature that allowed people to track their friends in such minute detail that thousands of users protested the feature.
But despite all these signs that the big social networking sites were losing cachet with the young and the restless, MediaShift readers were not ready to say that Facebook in particular had “jumped the shark” — i.e. had gone past its prime. In fact, not one person would say with confidence that Facebook was over, at least not yet.
Before we get to your thoughtful answers on Facebook, I want to run down some of your humorous takes on the phrase “jump the shark.” The phrase started as a way to gauge what point TV shows had peaked, and is a reference to the “Happy Days” episode where The Fonz jumps over a shark on water skis. [Thanks for correcting me on this, Chris Sweet.] But now it’s become a pop culture reference and website that includes everything from movies to music to celebrity hair care. Here are some of your re-workings of the phrase in reference to Facebook:
“In all honesty, Facebook has run out of sharks to jump, and appears to be on the hunt for lesser creatures.” — Sir Nuke
“Facebook jumped the shark many times, but jumping the salmon is what finally did them in.” — Sir Nuke
“It may have hopped in anticipation of the shark.” — Rita Desai of Bivings Report
“Facebook jumped the shark? I dunno. All I know is they’re still swimming.” — Ina
In defense of Facebook, many of you expressed your gratitude for how much the service had helped you keep in touch with friends. Ina, who’s from Norway but has spent time studying abroad on foreign exchange programs, mentioned how Facebook has been valuable for long distance friendships:
I don’t just keep in touch with my New Zealand friends — I’ve also found and reunited with heaps of my old high school friends from the U.S. — quite a few people whom I haven’t talked to since 2003. So I’m stoked!
That being said, I wasn’t fond of the new over-informative Facebook, and that people could find out so much about your Facebook activity, but hey, that’s 2006 for ya! When the Facebook crew made it possible I opted out of the feature and now I’m one happy camper.
I don’t know how my American friends feel, but I actually like that Facebook is available for everyone. Now my Norwegian friends can join — along with the exchange students from New Zealand who didn’t sign up for Facebook while we were there.
Another commenter, Elisa, gave a Facebook endorsement that would make the company’s PR department proud (I’m hoping she isn’t part of that department):
Thank God Facebook is finally open to the general public. I’ve had accounts on Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace for the past few years — not because I’m overly fond of “social networking,” (my sociology professor would cringe at my use of the term), but because I couldn’t find just one of them that could hold everyone I know. Facebook is, hands down, the best of the bunch, with a really user-friendly interface and — though I know there are those who complain about them — a ton of great features…
Though I was thoroughly against it when it was first introduced, the “Events” feature allows you to make an announcement for a party, club meeting, or other event and invite your friends. My roommates and I are having a party next weekend and the “official” invitation is on Facebook. So for us at least, the opening up to the general population of the Facebook site was perfectly timed.
Rita, from Bivings Report, is one of those people who doesn’t like all the new features on Facebook — though she believes that opening it up to everyone will not be a problem.
“Opening it up to the universe isn’t what will fuel Facebook’s demise,” she wrote. “Complicating it with new features every two days and requiring users to get used to a new layout and new bells and whistles all the time is what will likely frustrate current Facebookers into sticking to something that is more predictable…The truth is, Facebook is still super-popular and if Facebookers get annoyed, they’ll just voice their opinions rather than stop using it.”
Bryan Murley, who blogs at Reinventing College Media and teaches at Emory & Henry College, had an illustrative example of Facebook’s current staying power. Here is his story:
I had a “Facebook moment” that likely answers your question [as to whether it jumped the shark]. With about 15 minutes left in a college class this morning, I decided to let the students work on an upcoming assignment, or finish working on a project that is due Tuesday (the class meets in a computer lab). No sooner had I invited them to work on their assignments than one of them had turned around and logged in to Facebook.
Even after all the controversy, I’ve watched several times as different students have logged into Facebook in the background while they are supposed to be working on a class project. I suspect there is some part of the cognoscenti who will abandon Facebook, but many will continue to use it as always.
Sir Nuke had an interesting take on the whole social networking phenomenon, noting that Facebook will live on even if it’s lost its coolness, hip quotient:
Jumping the shark doesn’t work the same way for websites as it does for TV shows and the like. The main thing Facebook has going for it at this point is its extensive user base. I believe this is the main reason it will continue to survive (even thrive). Popular websites really don’t die off overnight. How many years has Netscape.com survived, despite its almost complete worthlessness? Facebook, however, is begging to be undercut by a simular service that has greater dedication to its user base. Plenty of cool sounding unclaimed 8 letter domain names exist.
Ged noted that Facebook has become a catalyst for discussion about privacy issues among young folks, but that eventually it would die the inevitable death of all trendy trends. “What will kill Facebook is fashion and time like hypercolor T-shirts, dungarees and kaftans,” he wrote. “However social networking is bigger than any one brand.”
What do you think? Have the big social networking sites become too mainstream for their early hip audiences, or is this a logical evolution? If you use Facebook or MySpace or Xanga or LinkedIn or other social networking sites, tell us what you like or dislike about them in the comments below.
UPDATE: Social researcher danah boyd questions the comScore data’s accuracy about the age of social networkers, and believes they are figuring the age of website visitors to MySpace and Facebook by the computer owner’s age — with teenagers using parents’ computers. The gist of her argument:
Young people are supposed to use a separate account than their parents. This data seems to indicate that comScore is wrong in assuming that people will do so. Most minors probably use their parent’s account to check these social sites. So, if we assume that, Xanga is obscenely a teen site, Facebook probably has nearly as many high school users as college users and MySpace swings young but is used by a wider variety of age groups than most social sites.