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Are we still using Facebook to keep in touch?

Friday, March 7th 2014 by Hannah Langston
Facebook may be the most visited social network but is it the best way to connect with friends?

According to a 2013 study 71% of adults use social media to stay in touch with current friends and reconnect with old ones[1].

The most successful social network, Facebook started as a tool for students so that they could contact friends at other universities but soon became available to anyone with an email address. Initially not intended to be a money-making tool the introduction of advertising, apps and games has seen Facebook become the 36th most valuable brand in the world[2] and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, the 21st richest person[3]. But have we lost sight of Facebook’s original function as a quick and easy way to keep in touch with friends?

Facebook is not so much for interacting with others than talking about yourself to an ever-present audience. Time.com writer Josh Sanburn is one of 7% of ‘millennials’ who doesn’t use Facebook. He views it as a “a tool merely to parade your life in front of others, as a truthy account of existence, like your own personal greatest hits, all of which have been auto-tuned”[4]. With the average Facebook user having 210 friends[5] – a huge amount considering the number of people each of us interact with in real life, it would be a mammoth task to keep in touch with them all. Which begs the question, is the desire for Facebook friends greater than the desire to communicate with all of them? It could be that for many such friends are there as an audience to our endeavors rather than conversation participants.

Today it’s easy to spend an hour on Facebook without having to talk to any of your friends. In a US survey of Facebook usage, the most popular activity was reading the news feed, followed by finding apps to use and playing games. Responding or posting comments on friends’ updates and pictures was the fifth most popular activity[6]. This isn’t surprising when you consider the current Facebook news feed is a mash-up of promotional messages, app notifications and game/music suggestions.

If people aren’t keeping in touch on Facebook then they’re doing it on WhatsApp. The social messaging service has overtaken Facebook as the number one way to send messages in countries all over the world[7]. WhatsApp is simpler to use than Facebook but its key advantage is a sole focus on interaction with friends without the distractions of company advertising and profiles, photo galleries and online games. Perhaps WhatsApp can be described as the tool for keeping in touch with people who matter - researchers found that close friends were using Snapchat to communicate, WhatsApp with acquaintances and Twitter to broadcast indiscriminately to anyone who chose to follow that person[7].

Facebook’s recent purchase of WhatsApp could be an attempt to revive Facebook’s original function. But will WhatsApp remain a simple messaging tool or will Facebook influx it with additional features from its own platform? Interestingly, WhatsApp has been firmly anti-advertising and anti-data collection[8]. Given that the main reason why people leave Facebook is privacy concerns[9] perhaps Facebook is returning back to basics.

References

  1. http://www.forbes.com/companies/facebook
  2. http://www.forbes.com/profile/mark-zuckerberg
  3. http://nation.time.com/2013/05/09/im-not-on-facebook-and-i-dont-regret-it-yet/#ixzz2vBCGyaiP
  4. http://www.harrisinteractive.com/uk/insights/sociallife.aspx
  5. https://fb-public.app.box.com/s/3iq5x6uwnqtq7ki4q8wk http://www.offerpop.com/resources/blog/the-top-activities-of-facebooks-mobile-users-2
  6. http://gsmis.org
  7. http://blog.whatsapp.com/index.php/2012/06/why-we-dont-sell-ads
  8. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/cyber.2012.0323?journalCode=cyber

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