Posted by & filed under Social.

Could Facebook Become a Lonely Ghost Town?

Facebook has grown up on superlatives – the biggest, the best, the richest. After the most gigantic stock market flotation for $105 billion that made a zillionnaire (well, $19 billion) of Mark Zuckerberg, they may not be happy that a kind of weariness is settling in amongst the public.

Some will have smiled wryly when told that as the share price fell, so the young man was ‘poorer’ by a couple of billion, and then some more. It has been labelled the ‘IPOcalypse’ already. It is being sued by some unhappy shareholders.

Others are getting less enthusiastic about sharing everything as a philosophy. In some quarters it is being renamed ‘Fadebook’.

Too much Facebook may be bad for health, not just the users, but those who have to hear about it through a media obsession that has become relentless. ‘I Hate Facebook’ groups are proliferating – most of them on Facebook!

Popular stars often decline, celebs fall out of favour. Politicians are the same. The higher people rise, often the faster they fall. It’s human nature. And now the bubble of Facebook frenzy may be about to burst.

Unusual Facebook Stories

Leave aside the months of preparatory hype about the chance to invest in the social networking behemoth, including the story of the American father who spent his teenage daughter’s college money on shares instead of her education. Also leave aside the story about Facebook helping people to donate their organs to medicine to help others.

Instead recall a few Facebook stories over the past days that tell an unexpected tale.

Under 13s may be allowed to join the British arm of the site. Proponents of this idea argue that so many children use it anyway that they have made the rule redundant. If everybody drove at 80mph everywhere, would they raise the speeds limit to fit?

Facebook wants ‘a debate’ about it. The no under-13s rule is strictly enforced in the States, but less elsewhere. Many parents seem content to let their children have accounts, perhaps following the line of least resistance. The opponents of change argue that the minimum age helps shield children from cyber-bullying and inappropriate adult contact.

Ryan Chambers (19), described at Aylesbury Crown Court as a ‘manipulative loner’ with over 1000 names and mobile numbers of girls under 16 in his possession, was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail. He had set up 11 different Facebook profiles under different names to contact girls, flatter them and hope they ‘rose to the bait’ and met him.

His defence lawyer argued that ‘he had become addicted to Facebook.’ Chambers’ judgement was flawed and ‘his use of Facebook became prolific’. She said that Facebook’s addictive nature gave ‘the illusion that these people were friends.’

Zuckerberg: The Profile

Besides having to follow how rich Mark Zuckerberg is now and how much tight control he still has over his company, the news of his changed status quickly followed the stock market events.

In a quiet party where guests thought they were attending his girlfriend’s graduation, he and Priscilla Chan were married, so his status on his profile became: ‘married’. So, it was a surprise wedding. Cynics were only surprised the youthful Zuckerberg left off his tee shirt and hoodie and actually wore a suit for his nuptials.

Really interesting. Well it is for the media, always hungry for personalities they can use at every opportunity. One editor admitted a year back that if a story ‘had a Cheryl Cole angle’ they were interested. Now it has become the Facebook/Zuckerberg angle.

Psychologists have had something of a field day analysing Zuckerberg’s mental profile in the way he has developed Facebook, and is still pulling the key strings to control things in a way that normally publically quoted companies are not.

Now it’s the turn of financial analysts to pour some cold water on the flames of hype. It seems in the cold light of day that Facebook’s banks ended up owning 86% of the initial public offering after what analysts described as ‘a lacklustre first day of trading in shares.’

Wall Street underwriters were obliged to prop up shares as they started to fall back from the first $38 price. The technical glitches in the New York Stock Exchange system that delayed trading were not the worry.

What concerns financial seers is the lack of monetising direction for the future and the fact that investors in general are not looking closely enough at the risks in the business structure.

Of course, it’s still a phenomenal success, by any measure. It’s just that warnings have started. And once that happens, they can often become self-fulfilling. Think Greece and the Euro.

Fatigue Sets In

The condition of ‘Facebook Fatigue’ was first identified by Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph (19 May). He wrote as ‘a former addict’ saying that in a ‘few short years, it will be as sad and lonely a ghost town as MySpace.

Deacon admitted to being no expert but knew that for a company to be worth a lot of money, they ‘need to bring in a lot of money.’ He thought that the paid ads just wouldn’t do it. Most people can cheerfully ignore them. Their eyes focus on messages and photos from people they know (and love).

He thought ads in papers and on TV were still more memorable than any on Facebook. But his main complaint was that he’s simply ‘grown tired’ of it. It’s slow. People have less to say than on Twitter, where speed of news and reaction makes it ‘frenziedly addictive.’

Facebook is beginning to feel like ‘the world’s loneliest party’ to Michael Deacon. It may be that he is a sad individual who would not go a party where he was welcome anyway.

Or it may be that he is on to something.

Read On:

End of the World Wide Web?
What If Facebook Was a Country and Other Ideas
Digital Addictions Hook More People

Image: Jon Sullivan