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Is Facebook having a mid-life crisis?

Is Facebook having a mid-life crisis?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Ian Muir

Ian is a Senior Developer for Piehead

Have you resisted posting something to Facebook in fear that your Dad might complain? Do you frantically un-tag yourself in photos your old college friends post to make sure Grandma doesn’t see you in a toga? As the average age of Facebook users starts to rise, these activities are becoming more common among many members of Facebook’s core user base. The initial crowd that fled MySpace to poke their college friends on The Facebook is starting to change their habits.

Now that Facebook lost the ‘The’ and added your Mom, it seems that photos of college parties and three AM status updates are being replaced by “funny” images once reserved for the ceiling posters at the dentist’s office. Sometimes if feels like an elderly relative or acquaintance is just waiting to popup on chat yelling, “Damn you kids! Get off of my wall!”

This shift may not hurt Facebook much now, but it does open the door for a variety of new social media sites looking to recapture the attention of Generation Y. Google attacked the awkward sharing issue directly by creating Google Plus and focusing on creating circles of friends with which you could share. Unfortunately for Google, this led to a large volume of private posts making the site look like a ghost town to new users.  The result has been a massive drop in user growth since the initial burst of early adopters.

The few sites that have had success in picking up the Facebook refugees have taken a much different approach than Google. While Google tried to create a system where you could be friends with everybody, but divide people into groups, many new social sites are focusing on specific niches and sub-cultures. One example is Pinterest. Rather than creating a robust social networking app, they’ve provided a simple system for tagging and commenting on items that users, predominantly Gen Y women, find interesting.  Quora, a site started for asking and answering questions related to technology, is another example of a social media site that is focusing on a specific function for a certain type of user.

With apps like Google Plus floundering and smaller competitors like Pinterest and Quora seeing success, it may be time to stop asking what the next big thing will be in social media. As the variety (and age) of Facebook’s users increases, the real answer might not be the next big thing, but rather the next group of small things. Rather than looking for next Facebook or MySpace, it may be time to shift the focus back to niches.

Will the next big thing in social media actually be a single app or will it be the system that best connects a variety of apps targeted at specific groups of people?