I’m beginning to hear my co-workers and friends start to complain about Facebook. The complaints aren’t centered around the latest homepage changes or the some feature that changed, as has been the case in recent months with Facebook making updates to its design and user experience. No, these folks complaining are concerned about one thing: old people.
As facebook gains in popularity and continues to extend its dominance over other online social networks, its only natural for more and more people to hear about facebook in the news, or read about it in the New York Times or other print newspapers. When news spreads as quickly as it does today, there are bound to be more and more casual internet users wandering over to facebook to check it out, including those folks who typically just use the internet for email. That group of people include members of the older generation of people who first were exposed to the wonders of the internet through the walled garden called AOL.
America Online was just about the only way the older folks of the general population knew how to access this virtual world 10 years ago. They had access to their email, news, games – what else is there to do on the internet anyway? 🙂 Facebook offers some of the same internet comforts as AOL did then. With online shopping coming to Facebook, in the future these AOL-trained users will never need to leave Facebook to experience most of what the internet has to offer.
So why are people complaining? It’s simple – Facebook used to be a place for young people. Teenagers and college kids who made Facebook what it is today have seen their young, cool web social gathering turn into a mass appeal product whose doors are now open to all ages. Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Uncles, and even grandmothers are all jumping on to Facebook. Some are there to check out what all the hype is about, some to be hip and cool, some to monitor their children’s activities, some just to have a connection with the children who have moved away to live in other parts of the country or world. Regardless of the reason, young people see this as an invasion, and at some point will begin looking for another hangout that doesn’t include anyone in their family that can monitor their online activities. I hear the quickest way for a younger person to leave facebook is for them to get a friend invite from their mother. I won’t get into the psychology of any of this. If you have been a teenager before, you understand.
I believe Facebook understands their population equation and the variables that influence the long term success of the site and the community. They have gone to great lengths to make privacy a big part of their platform, and users have the option of choosing what they share and don’t share with their friends. This is all in an effort to empower their users, and prevent mass exodus. However at some point people will get tired of adjusting settings for everything just so Mom can’t see my pictures from the party the other night. At some point a competitor to Facebook is going to come along and market their community to young people as the new cool hangout. Then we can watch the cycle start all over again, with older people following the younger crowds to the next big thing on the web. Facebook will ultimately end up like AOL – an internet legacy struggling to be relevant.