It's a familiar cycle: early adopters flock to a new band (The Strokes), technology (Palm Pilots), or fashion (trucker hats), and as soon as it becomes mainstream they bail. A recent New York Times piece raises worries that this is happening to Facebook, with users quitting because they've become obsessed, or feel their social lives have become degraded and cheapened. On the other side, as we covered last week, business analysts fret that Twitter is likewise about to hit a wall, since teens are famously less interested than older users in the medium.
But are these just the laments of early adopters who no longer matter? Social media continues to grow explosively, with Facebook's traffic up 155% in the last year, and Twitter recently valued at $5-10 billion.
Here are the best arguments for and against a social media collapse:
- Novelty's Worn Off, says Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times. She argues from anecdotes that the most recent wave of disillusioned Facebookers "appears to be bored with it, obscurely sore or just somehow creeped out."
- But Social Media Growth Is Surging, maintains Fred Wilson at A VC, an investor in Twitter. "Here's the deal, churn is part of online media, particularly social media. People come and go. Some stick around, some don't. These stories about quitters are true of course, but they miss the big picture. More and more people are using these services every day."
- Worthless Professional Tool, admits Rod Dreher, echoing a familiar complaint at BeliefNet. "I thought for a while that it might be a useful way of contacting people I needed to be in touch with professionally, but after sending several FB messages to someone I wanted to interview, without hearing back from him, I thought, well, this is a waste of time. Then I realized that I never look at my page either, so people might be writing me asking for interviews, and I'm not aware of it. I might as well just kill my page.
- But Ushering in a Golden Age of Literacy, rebuts Clive Thompson in Wired. "The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision...We think of writing as either good or bad. What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all."
Perhaps the most apt question was asked by Geoff Cook in the Washington Post. The issue is not whether social media is "in" or "out," since millions of adults and teens plainly do find social media useful, while millions of others disregard it entirely. He says:
The question of "Why Don't Teens Use Twitter?" is the question of "Why Doesn't Everyone Use Twitter?" The answer, it would seem, is both obvious and heretical: maybe Twitter isn't for everyone.