Facebook fatigue and niche networks

Social networking site Facebook saw its first drop in UK users in January, according to research from Nielsen Online as reported by the BBC.

Users fell 5% to 8.5 million in January from 8.9 million in December, according to data from Nielsen Online.

This was the first drop in user numbers since July 2006 when Nielsen began compiling data on the site, says the BBC report.

While I don’t think anyone should draw any meaningful conclusions from a numbers decline for just one month, it does reflect, anecdotally at least, what I hear about a lot among many of my online friends – Facebook fatigue.

I’m suffering from that. Indeed, these days I check in to Facebook maybe once or twice a week, that’s all. And I don’t use it as a primary business communication channel.

What an about-turn from just seven months ago.

And the place I frequent more than any other? Twitter. That’s my online social network of choice where I find like-minded people that I want to connect with.

It’s not better than Facebook, it’s just different. And no pokes, vampire bites, movie quizzes or even virtual beers. That suits me just fine.

One particular aspect of the BBC’s report is worth paying attention to, which is expressed in this quote from Alex Burmaster, European internet analyst at Nielsen Online:

[…] real growth potential lies in the niche networks – those based on a particular lifestyle or interest, such as travel, music, wealth or business.

I agree. And you can still be in a vast network like Facebook, if you want, as well as in a small one that meets your relevant and specific interests or needs. Or in multiple smalls ones, as I am.

I don’t think Facebook will suddenly become unpopular. But I do think we will see many more niche networks springing up as long as there are people who want to connect with other people.

And not just online, either – take a look at the Social Media Cafe which is an embryonic social network that is a hybrid: online and in the flesh.

The best of both worlds.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Francis Wooby

    Once facebook opened up to those of us no longer in college, the fun was in finding past and present classmates, coworkers and others who were also signed up. And now that we’ve pretty much looked up everyone we can think of, what’s left? Turning them all into vampires and zombies?

  2. Rob Safuto

    Niche social networking is going to be big. I predicted as much last June. I’ve been running my own niche social network for about a year now and we have a steady stream of new members each week.

    MySpace and Facebook are too general to cover the passions of every person. Niche networks are able to meet people’s needs in ways that those other giant networks can’t. And new tools like Drupal or Ning make starting a new social network easier than ever.

  3. neville

    What I’ve found, Francis is for every 5 people who have fatigue as I do, 5 more who absolutely love and live in Facebook.

    Each to his/her own, I say.

    Agree entirely, Rob, re covering the passions of every person. That’s why I do believe more niche networks (a bit of an ugly phrase) will spring up. And I mean niche, not only the Drupals or Nings, but the people who just want to get together and can put together a wiki, blog or forum as an online focal point.

    So many choices!

  4. Shel Holtz

    I agree that niche social networks will be big. I also think (as I blogged) that eventually social networks will be integrated seamlessly into other web content. But some of the defections from Facebook have to be attributed to people who heard about it, joined, then decided social networking wasn’t for them. Not much different from people who started blogs because of the hype, then abandoned them. The drop was predictable and inevitable, but doesn’t (IMHO) speak to a lack of value in a general social network like Facebook.

  5. Yang-May Ooi

    Interesting to find that Facebook’s charms are also fading for you, Neville. I’m working on a post about Facebook’s Failings (in my view) which I’ll be posting up on my blog next week. I connect with a few friends on it and it has it’s role in my online social life. But a lot of the things you can do on Facebook is contained within Facebook (sending growing gifts, throwing sheep etc) – I enjoy Twitter in contrast because I can follow what people are doing in the real world.

  6. neville

    Looking forward to seeing what you have to say in your post, Yang-May.

    I saw posts yesterday talking about similar falls in Facebook usage in the US, the biggest market.

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