Has Facebook Peaked?

This week former agent Nathan Bransford asked the Nathanites if we thought blogging had peaked. I don’t see much evidence of that, although my own stats are down. But I think that’s caused by more blogging rather than less. More readers are becoming bloggers, and we can’t all keep up with each other’s sparkling cybermusings.

More bloggers means the readers—and advertising funds—are spread thinner. This means blogging for money is indeed fading. But as tech blogger Tom Johnson  pointed out, if you “let it accompany your career choice, your blog efforts always provide an indirect financial return on career growth.”

In other words, blog about books and you might sell a book someday—so blogs are still valuable, at least indirectly.

But I’m not so sure about Facebook.

Yes, I know Man of the Year Mark Zuckerberg and his brain-child are flying high. There’s the much-lauded film, and this week Facebook is even credited with bringing down the government of Egypt—which I guess puts Zuckerberg up there with Caesar and Alexander the Great.

What started as a college geek scheme to meet girls has burgeoned into a multi-billion dollar network where upwards of 44% of Americans meet, re-connect with old friends, and share photos of the grandkids. Recently, small businesses have discovered the new “like” pages are a goldmine for free advertising.

Facebook is even bragging it will take over email. 

But I’m not so sure. I’m getting inklings that Facebook is on the way out. Unlike other social media giants like Twitter and the various blogging platforms, Facebook is essentially an advertising delivery system. And a bully.

Facebook is hard for a newbie to learn, and its relationship with users is adversarial. If you can’t figure out how to get around the obstacles and traps the Facebook elves have set for you, they’ll invade every aspect of your privacy. They’ll spam you mercilessly with updates every time somebody "friends" a friend of a friend you didn’t even like that much in high school, and fill your inbox with blow-by-blow reports of your old college roommate’s kid's romantic woes. They constantly urge you to "friend" your stalker ex-boyfriend and the agent who sent the soul-crushing rejection last week. They try to bully you into turning over the names and addresses of all your friends with the voracity of a 1950s HUAC subcommittee.

And besides, Facebook just isn’t that cool anymore.

Photos of the family reunion, daily Bible verses, and advertisements for Joe’s Used Tire and Bait Shop aren’t exactly cutting edge. My 20-something nephews say they never look at their Facebook pages any more, and neither do most of their circle. After all, Grandma’s there. And their Aunt Anne. And when the cool people leave, the rest of the culture follows quickly. Remember MySpace?

A few weeks ago, CNN’s Douglas Rushkoff said, “the news that Goldman Sachs has chosen to invest in Facebook while entreating others to do the same should inspire about as much confidence as their investment in mortgage securities did in 2008.”

And he reminded us that “Rupert Murdoch's 2005 purchase of MySpace for $580 million coincided pretty much exactly with the website's peak of popularity.”

And before that. We had the AOL-Time/Warner fiasco.

When big corporations take over, new media gets old. Fast.

On Nathan’s blog, writer Neil Vogler said, “Everyone I know seems to be pulling back on their FB usage…I think we've gotten past the age of net-based communication as novelty, and what we're seeing now is the beginning of a new age of maturity. A whole bunch of early-adopters and previously heavy users are taking a step back and seeking more of a sense of balance in their everyday lives. Information overload is a real enough hazard, and the dangers of sharing too much detail about your day-today movements on the net are becoming more evident.”

Yeah, like the discovery that burglars are using Facebook to find out exactly when you’ll be out of town, leaving untended that fabulous new flatscreen you posted all the photos of, and perverts are helping themselves to those sweet grandkid pictures, photoshoping them, and selling them as kiddie porn.

Neil includes Twitter and blogging, too, but personally, I think they'll survive. Twitter is still trending, and although blogging will (I hope) settle down to a “more mature” pace as he predicts, I think it’s here to stay. It’s a free interactive website. What’s not to like?

But Facebook has a lot not to like. Take the case of loyal Facebooker David Fagin, who, instead of ignoring all those suggestions of people to “friend” went ahead and sent requests to the proffered names. The next day, Fagin was blocked from Facebook for being a spammer—just for following Facebook’s own suggestions.

And there’s the vacationing couple who friended a fellow RVer in order to exchange photos. The RVer turned out to be a wildly proselytizing Christian fundamentalist, whose hourly religious outbursts were plastered all over the couple’s Facebook page—much to the irritation of all their friends at their synagogue.

And there’s the time I stupidly clicked on one of those quizzes to find out what famous writer, Disneyland ride, ABBA song, or whatever I most resembled. I filled out the quiz, but couldn’t get the answer without agreeing to give the quiz-makers access to my email. OK, I was idiotic, but I clicked yes—and when I was finally informed I was the incarnation of Kurt Vonnegut, or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Super Trouper or whatever, the answer was randomly sent to ten people in my e-mail address book—two of whom were agents I’d just queried.

I got instant rejections on both queries. Arrgghh.

Who wants to hang with people who would do that to you?

Twitter can be a time waster and has its own annoyance factors, but it has never once undermined my career, insulted my friends, or blocked me from my page to punish me for following their own directions. Neither has Blogger.

I still have a Facebook page, and it’s great for things like quickly exchanging design ideas for my new book cover, getting news of local bands, and finding out who’s teaching with me at September’s Central Coast Writer’s Conference  (shameless plug there.)

But mostly I’d rather blog, thank you.

What about you, writer-friends? Have any Facebook horror stories? Do you think it’s fading? Will you still use it when it’s as dorky as an AOL email address? 

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