Is Facebook Past Its Prime?

Is Facebook on its last legs? Is it going to pull a MySpace on us? Will Facebook be the Internet's hip site du jour one day, then suddenly lose the love and affection of most of its followers the next? We hope not. But various irritations associated with the site could contribute to its eventual demise.

Already, in the first quarter of this year, the "bounce rate"--the percentage of visits to Facebook.com that consist of a single page view and then a quick exit--has grown by 19 percent, according to Internet traffic research firm Alexa. Though that statistic hardly qualifies as conclusive proof of Facebook's imminent demise, it does raise the possibility that a large number of Facebookers are surfing over to the site, finding little there of interest, and promptly leaving.

Here are some reasons Facebook might be losing its grip on people's online networking lives.

1. Facebook Veterans Are Defecting to Twitter

Twitter usage growth (click for full size).
People who delight in constant updates are the lifeblood of Facebook--but many of them are flocking to Twitter. When it comes to intense scrutiny of everyday trivialities, Twitter thoroughly out-Facebooks Facebook, where two or three status updates a day is the maximum before you start looking like a loser.

And even though you can update Facebook from your phone, Twitter feels more mobile. It gives the impression that you're out and about, simultaneously doing something important and tweeting about it, whereas updating your Facebook page implies that you're sitting by yourself at a computer with nothing better to do.

2. People Who Actually Have Lives Don't Use Facebook

If you're starring in a major motion picture or negotiating a trade agreement with Austria or training for next month's triathlon or competing for a spot on the Space Shuttle, chances are you're not spending much time on Facebook. And if you are doing any of these things and happen to have a Facebook page, you probably aren't maintaining it very diligently.

There's a growing sense among Facebook users that the amount of time a person spends on Facebook may be inversely proportional to how much is going on in the person's (offline) life. Perhaps unfairly, you may get the impression that only bored and boring people have time to tell their friends that they love the new pita bread at Trader Joe's.

3. In the Real World, People Often Have Good Reasons for Losing Touch With Old Friends

For so long, the thrill of Facebook was about reconnecting with people you thought you'd never see again. ("Oh, Little Miss Popular from high school! Did she end up really fat?" ... "Oh, that hot guy from calculus class. Is he married now?") And so on and so on. But now veteran Facebookers find themselves at an impasse: There's nobody left. Having reestablished ties with a few hundred friends from your past, you may be wracking your brain for additional lost acquaintances to "invite." When you find yourself trying to find and friend the janitor at your old middle school, you know it's become a problem.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Meanwhile, as your rediscovered friends update you about their everyday goings-on, they offer you multiple opportunities to recall the reasons you lost contact with them in the first place. Examples: "Don" was always a nonsensical rambler back in college--and lo and behold, his rants take up half of your news feed now. "Heidi" always sucked up in English class, and she finds ample opportunity on Facebook to display her mindless sycophancy anew. No wonder you neglected to fulfill your yearbook promises to "stay in touch!" Facebook has recently started allowing users to "hide" their friends, and you may be inclined to "hide" almost all of them.

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