Does the big blue giant have a problem keeping users engaged?
For some users, Facebook's "What's on your mind" question does little to provoke. Instead, it feels like an obligatory, emotionless utterance from a stale marriage. "I know you don't really care, Facebook."
And I'm starting to doubt whether or not anyone else does either.
If you think that this (admittedly dramatic) ennui is uncommon among Facebook users, think again. A recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos found that 34% of Facebookers said they were spending less time on the site than they were just six months ago. Not only that, but almost 50% of users said that they just spend the same amount of time as they are used to spending. That leaves a pretty small margin for people who are so enthralled with the world of Facebook that they report spending more time on the site than they did six months ago.
When asked why they are spending less time on the site, the 34% had a pretty simple response: It's boring.
Despite recent changes and the addition of new features, do you think it's possible that Facebook could let user engagement slide? If you're losing interest in Facebook, is it more because of boredom or something else like privacy concerns? Let us know in the comments.
Boring; one of the worst things that can be said about anything that lives and dies by engagement. Lying, cheating, betrayal of trust - all of these things are terrible, but can be overlooked if there's still some spice left. It's when you find that something has nothing left to offer - that's the kiss of death.
Relationship parallels aside, Facebook has to be in a constant battle to stay fresh, interesting, and relevant. Sure, with 900+ million users, it would be easy to rest on the "everyone has it, so everyone has to have it" argument. But that only goes so far. Social media users have to be continually smacked in the mouth with something vital to their daily lives, their very existence - something that they can't readily find anywhere else.
Facebook is most definitely ubiquitous, but it is old. Although it is (and always will be) a huge part of Facebook, the status update can only generate a finite amount of interest. Sure, some of your friends are witty and post hilarious commentary on everything from politics to movies to the battle of the sexes. And yes, others dazzle you with their interesting lives spent jumping from hostel to hostel in amazing European cities.
But let's face it - most of your friends are boring when it comes to the written word. There is a very (very, very) short window for giving a damn when it comes to breakfast choices and canine anecdotes.
Facebook isn't oblivious - they know this. And in the last year or so, Facebook has made some major changes to their product that has altered the user experience. Note that I said "changes" instead of "upgrades," as not everyone has been happy with all the new features to hit the service.
The Timelines, They Are A-Changin'
Facebook as we currently know it sprung out of ideas and updates unveiled on or around their annual f8 conference, held last September. Between the Open Graph, the Timeline, and the new News Feed, Facebook changed the landscape in a fairly dramatic way. However, though it's obvious that Facebook has been working to fight boredom among its users, the problem in some cases has been a chilly reception to the new features.
Back in September, Facebook announced some changes to their News Feed. The News Feed, being the main stream of information in the Facebook framework, is important to many users. So, when Facebook decided to combine "top stories" and "recent stories" into one big information deluge and add that real-time ticker to the right-hand side, people were pissed off.
Of course, Facebook users are notoriously resistant to change - even good changes. I can remember when the collective absolutely loathed the concept of their now-beloved News Feed when it made its first appearance many years back. As most of these outrages do, this one passed. Nary a single "Ticker" complaint has been heard across the realm in some time.
But the wounds are still a little raw when it comes to the Timeline, Facebook's biggest shakeup of the past few months. As the deadline approaches for all users to be switched over from the old profile to the new one, many users are still resistant to the change. Some polls have put the number at over 50% of users who say they are "worried" or "concerned" about the Timeline.
The main "worry," of course, is privacy. The Timeline drudges up past activities for everyone to see (again), and Facebook puts the onus on users to clean it all up to their liking. Some privacy activists say that the Timeline could open up a sort of "treasure trove" for cyber-criminals looking for easy information. Some people who have already switched to Timeline dislike it so much that they have fallen for various "deactivate Timeline" scams that continue to thrive around the interwebs.
Although the Timeline is far from universally despised, enough users are wary of it to cause Facebook some concern. I can only assume that the anti-Timeline voices will grow louder when it is finally pushed to all users.
Some of the Timeline fears morph into more general fears about the Open Graph, the term for the "frictionless sharing" between Facebook and various third-party apps. Fears aside, many users are embracing the open sharing with apps like Spotify...
And Facebook has recently added some new Open Graph features to the news feed in order to promote engagement, for instance this "Trending articles" side-scroll bar:
So, Facebook has changed the user experience in an attempt to keep things fresh, but not all users would agree that the experience has been improved. Even with these new features, more than 1/3 of the users in the Reuters poll are using the service less, many because they are bored.
Boredom, with a side of uselessness
Along with saying that they were bored, the Facebook defectors also used the words "not useful" to describe the experience. Apparently, some users simply aren't getting the information that they require when they log on the the service.