After five years on Facebook, Maxine Guttmann, 15, just isn’t that into it.
She visits Facebook less frequently than ever -- mostly to instant message with friends -- and while she updates her Tumblr blog daily, it’s been “weeks” since she’s shared on Facebook.
“When I was little, Facebook was the coolest thing to do. And I as got older, it got stupider and I have more commitments,” said Guttmann, a rising junior in New York City. “On Tumblr, I feel like I can post all the stuff I’m interested in. On Facebook, not all my friends are interested in the same stuff I am. And a lot aren’t even my close friends anymore.”
Amid doubts following Facebook’s disappointing public offering, teens have been a bright spot for the social network. Co-founder Mark Zuckerberg might not have figured out how to maintain ad revenue momentum or adapt to cellphones, but with 93 percent of 12- to 17-year-old social media users on Facebook, it’s long been assumed this young army of digital natives would build a solid foundation for Facebook.
That foundation is looking shaky. For teens, Facebook has become the equivalent of Microsoft Outlook or AOL Instant Messenger, experts say: It has evolved from a hot hangout, to a practical and dull tool for chatting about homework or catching up with faraway friends. Bored, overwhelmed by huge friend groups and exhausted by the digital popularity contests Facebook fosters, many teens are taking refuge in social services such as Tumblr and Twitter.
Facebook is “the teenage version of email,” said danah boyd, an assistant researcher at New York University specializing in youth and social media. “What’s so interesting about Facebook is that it’s not interesting to [teens]. That’s a big challenge for Facebook -- not because people won’t use it, but when they’re not passionate about it, you see a very different kind of user behavior than when someone is passionate about a service.”
Teens are less likely than their parents and grandparents to browse Facebook in a given month. Sixty-six percent of 12- to 17-year-olds visited Facebook in May this year, compared to 69 percent of web users between 55- and 64-years-old, and 71 percent of all Americans online, according to comScore, a digital analytics company. Other social media sites are chipping away at the time teens spend on the world’s largest social network. Though Facebook is still by far the most popular site among teens, 12- to 17-year-olds spent 77 percent of their social networking time on Zuckerberg’s site in May 2012, while the average user dedicates 85 percent of her online socializing to browsing Facebook, comScore data show.
Because marketers are eager to pitch to teens, who have disposable incomes and still-malleable shopping habits, younger users are a critical part of Facebook’s sales pitch to advertisers bankrolling Zuckerberg’s operation, experts say.
“Any network that doesn’t figure out how to engage teens and keep them engaged is going to lose out in the next five to 10 years,” said Brian Solis, an analyst with the Altimeter Group, a research firm. “Facebook is enamored, or should be, with this group because it’s the key to Facebook’s future relevance. If they can find ways to keep teens engaged, they can keep brands engaged.”
Teens said they regularly use Facebook’s chat functionalities, yet save their best sharing for other sites. Creative status updates and personal musings are sent to Tumblr and Twitter, which allow users a degree of anonymity and the flexibility to connect with people who share their interests, rather than their location or homeroom.
Courtney Knowles, director of Love is Louder, a youth-focused campaign aimed at countering bullying and depression, observes that teens will share whitewashed versions of themselves on Facebook. It’s on Tumblr that the truth comes out, she said.
After Facebook, Tumblr is the second most popular social networking site among teens, according to comScore. And the share of teens on Twitter doubled between 2009 and 2011 to 16 percent, a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows.
“The shift we’ve seen is, ‘I have a Facebook log-in and I see pictures of my friends, but Tumblr is where I spend all my time',” said boyd.
The sheer size of Facebook’s userbase, nearly 1 billion strong, has made it the high school cafeteria of social networks, while sites like Twitter and Tumblr have become the basement rec-room to which only a select few gain admission. Parents, notably, are excluded.
For Brandon Kaplowitz, 17, a rising senior from New Jersey, Facebook was once a “crucial way of connecting with people.” Now, he and his friends “are tiring of it.”
“Facebook is supposed to be a database of who you know, but you don’t know most of those people,” said Kaplowitz. “I feel like the whole experience of Facebook has been diluted by the fact that you’re no longer connecting with friends because you have random posts from people you don’t know filling up your wall.”
Analysts blame parents for teens’ shift away from Facebook, but moms and dads, take heart: Teens’ friends are driving them crazy, too. Facebook has become an added source of drama in young people’s lives and some have shifted to more niche, anonymous social venues to escape the arguments, hurt feelings, and gossip that play out on Facebook. Passing notes in class has given way to wall posts that can be seen by thousands.
Facebook “was very annoying and I really didn’t like the social pressures of it,” said Meghan Waitzer, 17, a rising senior in Toronto who temporarily deactivated her Facebook account. “I hate the idea that when you go to school, you’re popular or not popular there, and then it continues when you get home with the ‘likes,’ comments and everything ... You post a photo and just wait to see if people ‘like’ it. It’s very stressful. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”
Some teens are so desperate to be seen by their Facebook friends and rack up “likes” that they’ve developed a homegrown “mythology” for how to game Facebook’s ranking system to get the most attention, said boyd. According to their logic, users hankering for more eyeballs will get better placement in Facebook’s News Feed if they post lots of photos, pepper status updates with brand names, and share at specific times during the day. Part of Twitter’s appeal is that the real-time feed includes all updates, from everybody, teens say.
And though stereotyped as a generation of over-sharers, teens are wary of what personal information is online and said Facebook’s privacy settings have made the site into a liability. They’ve sanitized what they share to ensure it’s savory for Facebook’s diverse crowd, and 70 percent have set up their profiles to hide information from their parents, a McAfee study found.
Yet many teens still find they constantly have to police their profiles for inappropriate comments or photos posted by their friends, which can be a headache to remove.
“What we see with teens establishing a presence on other social networks … is the desire to have the benefits of Facebook but avoid some of the risk,” said Alice Marwick, a social media researcher at Microsoft Researcher. “Because Facebook is set up to spread content through the network by default, it allows for different types of slippages.”
Much in the way adults cope with the hassle of email, teens are supplementing Facebook with more intimate forms of communication that cut out the junk. But they can’t quite quit the social network altogether.
“I think if I deleted my Facebook page people would think I died,” said Waitzer.
Certainly the hottest new social network, Pinterest doesn't have all the functions and features of Facebook quite yet -- basically, you're just posting photos to your different boards, which you can categorize by interest or hobby or whatever. You can also follow your friends' boards and comment on their pins. And that's it. Pinterest is a simple, visual concept that has a huge, vibrant community of active users. It <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2012/02/07/pinterest-monthly-uniques/" target="_hplink">hit 10 million users faster</a> than any other social network and is now the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/pinterest-traffic-growth_n_1408088.html" target="_hplink">third most popular social network</a> in America, trailing only Facebook and Twitter. <br> <br> You can <a href="http://pinterest.com/" target="_hplink">request an invitation to join Pinterest here</a>.
Tagged has a remarkably similar arc to Facebook: Also founded in 2004, and also originally tageted at young people, Tagged is now open to everyone and allows you to customize your profile, play games, message friends, post photos, and meet new people. It has more than 300 million users and more than twenty million monthly active users -- not too shabby, and perhaps worth a look if you want a robust Facebook alternative that's not going anywhere. To see what Tagged is all about, check out this video introduction for beginners. You can <a href="http://www.tagged.com/?" target="_hplink">sign up for Tagged here</a>.
Path is one of several new social networks that seeks to improve on Facebook by making the experience more private and personal: Users are limited to 150 friends on the mobile-only service. A user is instructed to only add his or her closest friends, or anyone you'd invite to your birthday party; the average Path user <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/business/path-familyleaf-and-pair-small-by-design-social-networks.html" target="_hplink">has 40 connections</a>. Path is sort of like a daily online journal that you open to your friends: You can post photos and videos using your smartphone's camera, update your location, share what songs you're listening to and more. Path has been praised for its intimate feeling and clean design. For more on this social network and its mission statement, check out the introductory YouTube video. (Ignore the Thai -- it's in English). <br> <br> You must have an iPhone or Android phone to participate in Path; a BlackBerry app is apparently on its way. Path has about a million active users, per a <em>recent <em>New York Times</em> article</em>.
Speaking of intimacy: Pair is a social network in which you can only have one connection, as its name implies. Pair is a sharing service for couples (or really good friends, I suppose), available on Android and iPhone. It takes privacy to the extreme: Pair calls itself a "timeline for just the two of you, where you can post cute video messages and photos that no one else will see." Your significant other may be forcing you to join it any day now. On Pair, you can share photos, videos, location, and to-do lists; you can also play Tic-Tac-Toe with one another and draw sketches in real-time. One of the most precious features of Pair is its "thumbprint" feature, on which you and your partner can virtually press your thumbs together. Like Pair as a whole, you will probably either find this adorable or schmaltzy. Path is available for free <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pair/id503663173?mt=8" target="_hplink">in iTunes</a> and <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tenthbit.juliet" target="_hplink">the Google Play store</a>.
The number of social networks based on your current location, and your proximity to other users of an mobile application, is on the rise. These "social-location-mobile" (SoLoMo) apps dominated the recent South by Southwest festival, and the app that got the most press was Highlight. Highlight is iPhone only, and the mobile app hooks up with your Facebook and notifies you when you are near a friend, or a friend of a friend, or another Highlight user with similar interests. You can view this person's Highlight profile, and if you're intrigued, you can message that person and perhaps make a new friend or connection. Highlight CEO Paul Davison explains the app to Anderson Cooper in the accompanying YouTube video. Highlight is <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/highlight/id441534409?mt=8" target="_hplink">available for free in iTunes</a>.
Circle is, like Highlight, an app that tells you who's around you; unlike Highlight, it has a very pleasant design and lots of options for what information you share publicly and who can see you. You sign up for Circle with your Facebook account; the iPhone-only app shows you when Facebook friends are nearby, and also when friends of friends are close. You can choose to toggle on and off public visibility, if you don't want to be visible to friends of friends. Your profile shows your different Facebook networks (your college, high school, hometown, etc.) and you also have a mini-bio with your name, relationship status and interests. All of this can be toggled on and off as well. Circle is available <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/circle-whos-around-you/id488720081?mt=8" target="_hplink">on iTunes</a>.
Another social location app for your iPhone, Kismet shows you who's around and lets you chat with your nearby neighbors; it also allows users to check in on Foursquare and see which other Kismet users are at their location. Kismet boasts a nice map view, which allows you to see a broad view of other Kismet users around you; there's also an invitation feature that allows you to invite your friends and other users to meet up at a certain place and certain time. You can <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kismet/id490929215?mt=8" target="_hplink">download Kismet for iPhone here</a>.
Our final SoLoMo app (and hopefully the last time I will ever have to write "SoLoMo" ever again) is Ban.jo, which differentiates itself by being available for iPhone AND Android AND on the web. Accessibility! Aside from cross-OS availability, Ban.jo is more of the same: See who's currently around you in list or map view, message nearby folks, check in and update LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook. Ban.jo is also the only one of these apps publicizing the number of users it has: Its press kit claims that Ban.jo has over one million users worldwide in 185 countries. You can download Ban.jo <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ban-jo/id417076117" target="_hplink">for the iPhone</a> or <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.banjo.android" target="_hplink">for Android</a>; you can also <a href="http://app.ban.jo/?__utma=18700074.216795228.1337200636.1337200636.1337200636.1&__utmb=18700074.4.10.1337200636&__utmc=18700074&__utmx=-&__utmz=18700074.1337200636.1.1.utmcsr=google|utmccn=(organic)|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=(not provided)&__utmv=-&__utmk=204321424" target="_hplink">try it out at Ban.jo's website</a>.
Nextdoor is a social network for neighbors and neighborhoods. You join with your home address and are immediately placed into a home neighborhood; all of your connections, and all the content you see in your feed, comes from those that live near you. You don't have to make your address visible to your neighbors, but you do have to verify that you live there with Nextdoor in order to use the site. After you join, using Nextdoor is like a mix of browsing Craigslist and using your community bulletin board. You can find out what's happening in your 'hood and get recommendations for different local businesses and services; there's also a classifieds section for buying and selling. You can check out Nextdoor's pitch in the accompanying video. You can <a href="http://nextdoor.com/" target="_hplink">sign up for Nextdoor for free here</a>.
A mobile app for Android and iPhone, Roamz brings in information from Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Facebook to let you know what cool stuff is happening around you -- "where the locals go," it claims. That's the real draw of Roamz. It's a social network where you can post status updates and photos and also get information about the places nearby. Check out a video for the app -- which its creators call "Social Googles for the Real World" -- on the left. You can download Roamz for <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/roamz/id459343660?mt=8" target="_hplink">free for iPhone</a> or <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.roamz.app&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNvbS5yb2Ftei5hcHAiXQ.." target="_hplink">for Android</a>.