No, Facebook is not dying.
Although there's a huge appetite for stories to the contrary. The one circulating today cites ethnographic research from the EU which makes the startling claim that “Facebook is basically dead and buried with UK teenagers.”
Although that’s a direct quote from anthropologist Daniel Miller, it turns out he’s using a different understanding of “dead and buried” than the one you might be used to.
To back up for a moment, here was Miller’s methodology. He interviewed kids in one town in the United Kingdom (the larger study he’s part of is looking at other towns in other countries). In November, Miller focussed on the 16-18 year olds in that town. Those kids told him that they’re less excited about Facebook, and that they use a bunch of other social media and messaging services.
For this group Facebook is not just falling, it is basically dead, finished, kaput, over. It is about the least cool thing you could be associated with on the planet. It has been replaced by a combination of four media, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
OK. But then here’s Miller one paragraph later:
…most of the schoolchildren say they will remain on Facebook, but in essence as a mode of family interaction because their parents and even grandparents are starting to see it as almost an obligation to keep in touch through Facebook. So I don’t expect Facebook to necessarily disappear altogether.
When Miller says that Facebook is “basically dead,” he means, “less cool than it was.” When he says that “the young are moving on to cooler things,” he seems to mean, “some teengers I met are continuing to use Facebook, as well as other services they find more glamorous.” If teenagers refused to use products they thought were uncool but necessary, the braces market would collapse overnight.
Facebook is the second most popular website in the entire world. However often Mark Zuckerberg displeases people, he maintains a huge advantage by virtue of being the place we’re all already signed up for.
Even if you no longer use Facebook as a place to broadcast anything more private or personal than your name, its strength as a directory is really important. It means that, like the phone companies, Facebook’ll always have an enormous network advantage that it can use to reinvent ways to make money from. Plus, Facebook has the money to buy out (or rip-off) the glamorous new stuff that UK teens are so excited about. (You know, like Instagram, one of those four competitors Miller cites, which Facebook owns.)
It’s exciting to imagine life without Facebook, and saying that anything will die is, in the long run, a safe bet. But if, as it seems, 2014 will be the year we read a never-ending parade of stories about the Death of Facebook, you can probably safely ignore them. The first sign that Facebook’s actually in trouble will be when it’s no longer popular enough to earn clickbait pieces about its imminent death.