Launched in 2004, the site’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. There’s no doubt Facebook does this in ways never dreamed of, with people who are already friends but also those who have lost contact or never met.
The question is whether the tremendous success that is Mark Zuckerberg’s creation will last.
Numbers show that the growth in U.S. unique visitors to Facebook is slowing, and that it is losing unique users as well.
In recent interviews, some Central Massachusetts people said they remain thoroughly involved with Facebook, while others complained about time spent with Facebook or said they were lured by competing social media and used Facebook less.
Facebook says its big challenge as user growth rates slow is to increase user engagement.
Mr. Hopkins is a believer. The 37-year-old Stow resident runs the online marketing company Green Room Interactive. For him, Facebook is a tool used not just to keep in touch with old friends, but to promote his business in Facebook’s virtual world, which is comprised of 955 million monthly active users, around 168 million of whom are in the U.S., according to Facebook’s second-quarter financial report.
Mr. Hopkins joined Facebook three years ago.
“Initially it was just to catch up with old friends,” he said. Now, in addition to promoting his business, he uses the network to keep up with current events. The father of two children, Mr. Hopkins said Facebook has allowed him to interact with family and friends whom he doesn’t have time to see in person anymore.
However, Mr. Hopkins also recognizes that Facebook makes it difficult to separate his business life from his personal life. It’s hard to separate things like the invite to the company Christmas party from the invite to the family Christmas party.
“They don’t make it easy to say this is what I want to share with this group of friends, and this is what I want to share with clients,” Mr. Hopkins said.
Businesses that have set up free Facebook pages are concerned that the newly public company will begin charging a fee for that service.
But others see Facebook for its advantages.
Maura McPhillips, an 18-year-old, soon-to-be freshman at Worcester State University, said Facebook helps her as a consumer. “If I like a product, I’ll see if they have a Facebook page for newer products or offers,” she said. Ms. McPhillips uses Facebook to browse Coach’s new line of handbags or to keep up with Red Sox Nation.
Ms. McPhillips thinks Facebook will also help her stay close with high school friends through college.
“I think it will bring us closer, and we’ll keep in touch more,” she said.
Megan Belanger, 34, of Worcester believes otherwise. She joined Facebook in 2006 because of a friend’s bridal shower.
At first, she was impressed with the possibilities Facebook opened up. Ms. Belanger would check her Facebook every morning, lunchtime and evening. “I was addicted to Facebook for definitely a period of time. You can get lost; it’s a time suck,” she said.
But for her, the social network’s sparkle faded. Ms. Belanger canceled her profile over a year ago.
“I communicate just fine through calls and email. I don’t need Facebook for that. My close friends are still my close friends,” she said.
Her biggest complaint: over usage and drama. With updates almost every minute, Facebook has created a new meaning for information overload.
“I grew up with payphones, for god’s sake. You don’t have to know everything at all times,” she said.
Ms. Belanger isn’t the only one losing the Facebook fever.
Sincere Jones, a 24-year-old Fitchburg State University student, thinks the network will soon become a thing of the past.
“They came out with better social networks. It’s on its way out right now,” he said.
Mr. Jones continues to use his profile, but only sporadically. He prefers networks such as Tag and Instagram.
Lunenburg High School student Mia Reynolds has deactivated her account on numerous occasions, because she claims Facebook stresses her out.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said.
The biggest failure of Facebook is safety, she said. “It’s a dangerous thing. … You will get yourself into trouble. The things you say are going to be on there forever.”
Tyler Begnoche, 17, of Fitchburg has experienced this trouble firsthand. He was punished by his high school for posting pictures of beer cans on his page. Because of this and other incidents, Mr. Begnoche has decreased his usage. He now uses Twitter more than Facebook and believes that to be the next big thing.
Mike Abraham, a 19-year-old Worcester native, is also switching networks. He joined Facebook during his freshman year of high school in 2008, but is now using Twitter more religiously.
“I actually like it more than Facebook now. It’s not as busy. … It’s very simple,” he said. Mr. Abraham checks his Twitter account 10 to 15 times a day. He said he uses Twitter to follow close friends, as well as professional athletes.
He believes you don’t need Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. As an out-of-state student athlete at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., Mr. Abraham doesn’t get to make many trips home. He says he uses the phone and Skype to keep in close contact with his family.
Facebook itself admits to the possibility of demise.
“If we fail to retain existing users or add new users, or if our users decrease their level of engagement with Facebook, our revenue, financial results, and business may be significantly harmed,” Facebook said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission prior to its initial public offering May 18.
According to the research firm comScore Inc., which has been tracking Facebook since 2007, the site’s U.S. unique visitor growth rate hit a low point in May — up just 0.5 percent over May 2011. Facebook had around 700,000 fewer U.S. unique visitors that month, compared with the month before — 158.7 million in April versus 158.0 in May. In June, U.S. unique visitors rose to 159.8 million, according to comScore, but that was 1.1. million fewer visitors than in June 2011.
Since its peak of 166 million in October, the number of monthly U.S. unique visitors to Facebook has dropped 3.7 percent.
Facebook recently reported a net loss of $157 million in the second quarter of 2012, compared to net income of $240 million in the same quarter of 2011. Revenue rose 32 percent to $1.2 billion from $895 million. Although many teens and young adults seem to say they’re getting over the Facebook fad, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, Michael Greene, said Facebook continues to dominate in the overall social media market.
“As a company there certainly is no doubt member growth has slowed, but that can be expected at the current size. … It’s less about combating slow user growth and more about making sure current users use it and that it remains important to daily life.” he said in a June 19 telephone interview.
Facebook has attempted to hold on to easily distracted users by creating Timeline, the new Facebook profile that allows users to decide what to highlight and to choose who sees which posts.
Mr. Greene believes it’s hard to speculate on the future of social media because it is such an uncharted field. But, he said Facebook’s user base is larger than Myspace’s ever was and that Mr. Zuckerberg is going to work very hard so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Myspace, which was once the rage in the social media market, was annihilated when Facebook stepped up to the plate.
“Facebook’s always made it very hard to leave. Giving it up means losing a lot,” he said.
Mr. Greene himself uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. As an expert on social media, he said Facebook’s focus should turn to new advertising. Advertising accounts for 95 percent of Facebook’s revenue. Mr. Greene would like to see the company move more aggressively into mobile advertising.
Facebook has mobile monthly active users worldwide that rose 67 percent between June 2011 and June 2012, but historically it has not shown ads to mobile users.