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Social Networking - RIP

May 2010


I’m beginning to gloat over what I believe is the decline of the whole “Social Networking” business ( Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, Linkedin, Buzz and lots more you don’t need to investigate).  I was never really convinced; it always smelt like a fad to me, and as every day passes I think it is proving to be just that.  It may just be the inner Luddite in me coming out again, and I do enjoy a good gloat, but there it is.

At heart these sites are just another means of communication; the idea is to allow you to keep up with groups of people in a vaguely two-way manner.  In all cases you start by creating a webpage of your own within the system of your choice, and then creating links to other people through their pages – and through them to still more secondary contacts.  All your “friends” can see what you write, and you can see their messages. 

All that sounds fairly reasonable, I suppose.  However, I have two important observations for you.

The first, rather condescending, point is that I have just never been able to get interested in it.  This is despite the fact that I am generally a complete sucker for any internet gadget, and would normally be a pushover.  It is, therefore, possible that the highly developed Webster antennae sensed something wrong from at the start.  I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I have always felt this is another bubble waiting to burst. 

The second, rather more convincing point is that everyone I talk to who has been using these sites for some time is beginning to tell me that they are becoming overwhelmed by the number of contacts they have developed (5,000 is not uncommon, and no one has that many real contacts) and that the whole thing is becoming unwieldy and clumsy.

This especially true of the young, who got stuck into all this early on.  They are deserting Twitter and Facebook in numbers; ask any post-University twenty-something if they use either of them as much as they used to a year ago.  You will find that they will think for a moment and then, probably to their own surprise, say that they don’t use either much these days.  They might still use one as a notice board, perhaps to publicise an event, or invite people to something.  But as for the general ephemeral chit-chat that is supposed to be the life force of the network, they increasingly don’t bother.

And what’s more, when they do publish details of an event, unless it is within a very closed community (such as a workplace, or a University) the publicity simply doesn’t work.  This is either because the others just don’t see the announcement (because they have not logged on for a while) or because they all regard accepting an invitation through these media as non-binding; just an indication that they might pitch up if they don’t get a better offer. 

So it seems that the Facebook generation are growing up, and coming round to my initial instincts. 

There is some growth in the use of these sites, but it is from the middle aged.  This is just because they discovered it later than their children, and have not yet become bored by it.  They will soon; in these matters, where the young masses lead, older people who are trying to catch up will surely follow.

So what are the young shavers who are drifting away from Social websites doing instead?  Guess what: they have discovered a something new – they are talking to each other.  The gigantic growth at the moment is in mobile phones, which have recently become much more affordable (although still disgracefully expensive) and can do so much more.  Irritating though it may be to see the young wandering around chatting away on their phones, at least they are interacting directly with other humans.

This may just be the saving of society; as all Oldies know, when real conversation takes place, intellects spark off each other and new ideas pop up.  So, long live the phone and conversation; and have a good laugh at the young owners of Twitter who recently turned down some gigantic sum (said to be a billion dollars) for their website.  Soon it will be worthless.