Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Facebook: It conquered the world in 10 years.. what does it Face in next decade?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

Ten years ago this week, Mark Zuckerberg, then a 19-year-old computer geek from Dobbs Ferry, New York, flipped the on-button on The Facebook, inviting students at Harvard, and thereafter the world, to like, friend, poke, share, and effectively ruminate on their every waking moment and even moments comatose.

In the decade since, the social network has had more than its fair share of makeovers, including dropping the definite article, transforming it from a cluttered catch-all to the sleek, photo-filled Timeline we know today.

Now, Facebook is home to your average everyday web users, celebrities, business types, politicians, and even the odd pet (don't ask). It's on your PC and your smartphone and tablet, in the pages of magazines and on TV. Zuckerberg's rise to fame was even charted in an Academy Award-winning film penned by West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin.

Ever mindful you cannot please all the people all the time, Zuckerberg, with each Facebook overhaul, has had the book thrown at him with complaints and threats of boycotts, but most take it at face value and the pokes prevail.

My youngest left it some years back and, when I asked why, explained: "It's for losers. People who don't have a life."

Is Facebook no longer cool? Now that pre-teens are admitted? Or because parents and even grandparents started saturating it? I only ask because FB, while celebrating its 10th birthday with all manners of song-and-dance, has been worried for some time about young adults leaving its digital world for a hipper alternative, such as Snapchat or Tumblr – seeking out fresh online playgrounds.

On Wednesday this week a marketing firm suggested that Facebook's expansion in the US, UK and other major European countries and Japan has peaked, losing millions of users since April last year.

In the last month the world's largest social network has lost six million US visitors, a 4% drop, according to media analysts SocialBakers. In the UK, 1.4m fewer users checked in last month, a fall of 4.5%. The declines are sustained: in the last six months, Facebook has lost nearly nine million monthly visitors in the US and two million in the UK.

A spokeswoman for Facebook declined to comment. Still, I doubt Mark Zuckerberg is losing face over Wednesday's report. The Harvard dropout at 29 is worth, as of last September, $19bn (£11,625m.). And is considered by Forbes list as the 24th 'most powerful' man in the world.

Today, Facebook, decline or no decline, has more than one billion active users – one in seven of us – who daily share nearly five billion items, upload 350 million photos and click that 'like' button more than 4.5 billion times.

Only Google gets more visitors daily.

All that ubiquity, of course, challenges us about how we think about what should be private, and what we broadcast to our 'friends' – a term (sadly) that now includes anyone we happen to remember from school, that job from a few years ago, or last night's cringe-inducing party.

When I first was signed up by my son, who now considers it a home for losers, I could never quite get how people from my past of 30 years ago wanted to be my Facebook 'friend'. They just didn't get it: that the reason I had dropped off their radar all those years ago was because I could no longer stand them.

And age hasn't weakened my resolve not to suffer fools easily.

All this I was mulling over yesterday as I took the dogs for a stroll along the banks of the River Dee by my newly-acquired home on the Meath/Cavan border, a townland of 740 souls, natural beauty, heritage and fine folklore, its ancient ancestors scattered far by Cromwell, its enchanting nature made famous by Ruby Murray in that song with the opening lines: 'Oh to be in Doonaree/With the sweetheart I once knew/To stroll in the shade of the leafy shade/Where the rhododendrons grew ... '

At the bend in the river I dropped in to the only pub for miles for some refreshment for me and the dogs. The landlord, an affable giant of a man, was whiling away the early evening with just a few locals supping, and his laptop atop the bar.

"VAT returns or Facebook," I suggested, as he looked up to pull me a pint.

His face, a healthy, ruddy complexion, became puzzled.

"Facebook? You know ... where you meet your friends and effectively ruminate on their every waking moment."

He topped my pint and eyed me with his good eye: "Ruminate? Sure, what in God's world would I need a computer for that? I see and ruminate with me friends every other day."

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