Why Is Facebook Losing Americans?

Illustration for article titled Why Is Facebook Losing Americans?

Facebook lost 5 million active users in the U.S. last month, according to a tracking service, despite robust growth overseas. Are Facebook's first adopters finally sick of the social network?

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Tracking and publishing company Inside Facebook reported that the social network's active U.S. users fell to 149.4 million at the end of May, compared with 155.2 million at end of April, the biggest loss in at least a year. There were also user declines in the United Kingdom, Norway and Russia, where Facebook has been around for a while, but growth in newer markets like Brazil and Mexico.

Some of this is just college kids dropping off the grid as summer starts, some of it is the inevitable backlash from users who try Facebook and decide they hate it. America is a pretty saturated market for Facebook after all. But if the social network wants to reach its goal of 1 billion global users, and to keep growing quickly enough to make its late stage investors rich, it's going to need to drive up engagement. If only there were some invasive, creepy technology it could deploy globally to force people to check their accounts more. Oh, right, facial recognition!

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[Photo via Getty]

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DISCUSSION

The decline in Facebook is the obvious result of a company not listening to its customers. Americans are increasingly concerned about privacy, and yet the company continues to insist privacy is neither a serious concern nor a problem on the site. Anecdotally, the half dozen people to leave Facebook over the last year have done so largely out of privacy concerns and the desire to avoid interacting with a certain set of people, whether that is family, students or co-workers. The cognitive dissonance between Facebook's belief of users' desires and actual users desires might go a long way in explaining the defection from the service.

However, that's not the only reason. The overall usability of the site has simply declined. Not only are Facebook feeds increasingly plagued with nonsensical spam messages, but the features that make the site worth visiting are increasingly buried behind automated processes that are both creepy and less helpful than manually using the site.

Managing friends — and getting news bits from specific people — is ever more difficult. Facebook tried automating this by sending feed information from profiles users have most recently or most often visit. But the result is that accidentally viewing the profile of a basement dwelling mouth breather from middle school leads to a feed flooded with bits of information from people we don't really care about. Sorting out friends in lists is virtually impossible and organizing friends by geographic or chronological association even more challenging.

But its not just friends. The core services— events, photos, messaging— these are all grossly wrong in implementation. Evite is still a better platform for sending invitations than Facebook's event system. Event invitations are easily ignored or forgotten unlike the persistent messaging of other electronic invitation services like eVite. Moreover, there is no way to confirm if event recipients even saw an invitation. But events can also be easily, accidentally opened up to thousands of strangers. Indeed, inviting a few friends to an event can mean sharing that event with all of their friends— and the mutual friends you intentionally didn't invite. In the end, sending out a massive email invitation is more effective than Facebook's event system.

The entire point of Facebook is improve and better facilitate real world social interaction— that means more easily sharing photos, creating and managing events and communicating with real people, in real life. Facebook's place in society is augmenting real life, but Facebook's decisions in design all point towards attempts to replace real life social interaction. Their site "innovations" make the site an increasingly more addictive environment, but does not make it any better at improving social interaction, and thus obsolescing itself.