Are younger users getting bored with Facebook? That question is being asked by the social networking giant as well as its observers, and could have implications for the general evolution of social media.
In its annual Form 10-K report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, sent on Feb. 1, the company wrote that it believes "some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook."
Facebook cited such products and services as Instagram -- which, not incidentally, Facebook owns -- and said that such non-Facebook engagement could lead to a "decline in user engagement" and a harm to its business.
Additionally, in late February Facebook's Director of Product Blake Ross announced in a posting on the site that he was departing the company. He wrote that he was "leaving because a Forbes writer asked his son's best friend Todd if Facebook was still cool and the friend said no, and plus none of HIS friends think so either, even Leila who used to love it, and this journalism made me reconsider the long-term viability of the company."
'Bored with Facebook'
Although Ross began the next paragraph of his departure statement with "in all seriousness," the statement has created waves, given Facebook's official notice of a similar wave. Ross has since removed the statement from his Facebook page.
There is also a recent survey conducted by Garry Tan of start-up investment group Y Combinator. The survey, of 1,038 people, half aged 13 to 18 and the other half 19 to 25, asked which social networking services were most used on a regular basis, and Tumblr beat Facebook. The results were 61 percent for Tumblr among 13- to 18-year-olds, compared with 55 percent for Facebook, and 57 percent for Tumblr with 19- to 25-year-olds, compared with 52 percent for Facebook.
Another data point: Before the recent launch of a social photo album app called Albumatic, a focus group of about two dozen potential users under the age of 25 was convened. The app's creator, Adam Ludwin, told news media that the focus group members didn't like the app's reliance on Facebook because they were "bored with Facebook."
In addition to Instagram and Tumblr, other apps or services that appear to be pulling younger users away from Facebook include Snapchat, iMessage, FaceTime and Twitter's Vine, all short-form media communicators.
'Capture the World'
But in addition to the pull of specific apps or sites, there could also be a push away. For example, Facebook's apparently never-ending effort to test the privacy boundaries among its users might be tainting it as a parental figure, and the fact that, with virtually everyone having a Facebook page -- including -- gasp! -- your parents, it's no longer a special space. In other words, the site is too popular to be cool.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry firm Current Analysis, noted that the Facebook rival apps and services appear to all "have an affinity for photos, video and mobility," areas of service that Facebook has been relatively late to match. In other words, he said, younger users are gravitating toward the most immediate ways to "capture the world and share it with your friends."
He said that Facebook could catch up with those needs by "doing a better job of developing ways to interact that are tied to your device and its capabilities, such as talking to people or the camera."
Shimmin said he expects social media trends will continue to move toward activity- and mobile-based pursuits, with emphases more on experience than on destinations. He said he wouldn't be surprised to see these kinds of trends migrate toward older users and even professional-oriented social sites like LinkedIn.