There’s an interesting anthropological report out stating that Facebook is essentially dead and buried for teens. This clearly has long term implications for the site and company given that they very much do want to become part of the rite of passage. You grow up, get a driving licence, start dating, get your first underage hangover and and some point in that process you also start your Facebook page and create your social media profile. That’s certainly been one of Mark Zuckerberg’s stated aims, that Facebook simply becomes one of the essential pieces of infrastructure of a modern life. This does of course require that each subsequent generation that goes through those rights of passage does indeed sign up to Facebook.
But there is also the ongoing debate about changing usage patterns on Facebook. A UK academic, Professor Daniel Miller of University College London, is leading an eight country, multi-city analysis of how Facebook is used, particularly among teenagers. His view is that the engine that drove Facebook forward, teen usage, is broken.
He’s quite right, that is indeed what is being said in the original research, here. There’s one more thing I would add to the analysis though. And that’s that of course teenagers are going to use something other than the mainstream services that are in use by the previous generation. For that’s a pretty good definition of what being a teenager is all about. Rebelling against The Man, determining that group identification by simply being in opposition to what parents and even older siblings do or do not do.
It’s worth noting that the sites and apps that have stolen the hearts of Facebook exiles are no match for it in terms of functionality. Most of the school children in our survey recognised that in many ways, Facebook is technically better than Twitter or Instagram. It is more integrated, better for photo albums, organising parties and more effective for observing people’s relationships.
None of these four have the range of integrated functions found on Facebook. WhatsApp is better for messaging and is now said to have overtaken Facebook as the number one way to send mobile messages. But it doesn’t begin to compare as an overall social network site. Neither can the others. This suggests that the dynamics of new media may depend on factors other than function.
I would argue that that factor other than function is the simple fact of being a teenager. If my generation had all been listening to rap then I’m absolutely certain that my children’s generation would have created something like punk in reaction to our listening habits. And if the generation above me had all been listening to punk then we would have created something like the white boy blues or possibly even prog rock (although I really do hope that we wouldn’t have done that) in reaction.
Similarly with clothes styles, hairdos, slang, the entire point and purpose of teenage culture is to mark off those in it from the social habits of the generation before. And that’s where I think that Facebook has that problem. It is mainstream nowadays and therefore of course teenagers are going to look for some other form of social media. Not because there’s anything wrong with Facebook, as those teens all agree in functionality it is ahead of the services that they actually are using. Simply because the generation above them all use Facebook as something that is pretty much a standard part of life therefore teenagers will choose another option. Because, you know, they’re teenagers and that’s what teenagers do.
The big question for the long term is therefore going to be whether using Facebook as the primary form of social media is something those teens grow into or whether each succeeding generation will end up with its own favoured service.