Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: Facebook

The lazy journalism of citing Facebook and Twitter

I’m getting very annoyed with the phrase “such as…” in journalism. It’s becoming a lazy substitute for not having concrete facts, and is used especially to write about websites and  social networks where the writer usually has no idea what they are talking about.

In other words, the phrase “such as Facebook and Twitter” really means “something’s going on online and it must be going on on Facebook and Twitter so just say that as that’s the only new thingy we’ve heard of in the newsroom”.

Some examples:

From the Telegraph: “Teachers believe social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are to blame for pupils’ poor grades, a study has concluded.”

From the FT (see, I’m not biased): “Banks are searching out fresh ways to engage with customers on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as they look to capitalise on the growing popularity of these mediums…”

I thought the other day – if I had a pound for every time I saw that written… So I googled it. Over 9 million instances of that exact phrase. And then I got curious. What about the other combinations. LinkedIn and, say, Orkut? Why should Facebook and Twitter be the only show in town?

So here’s the grid:

Source: Google results for exact phrase “such as x and y”. Here’s the data.

I’ve given anything over a million a red background, 100,000 – 1m in yellow, under 100,000 white, and put grey on anything less than 10.

So Facebook and Twitter is the killer combo, although MySpace does well with Facebook. But look at the rest – it’s a joke. It’s not as if they have that magnitude of users less than Twitter – or even Facebook.

But the real joke is that Twitter and Facebook are so radically different. To lump them together that often in a lazy format is ridiculous. The network effect of journalists is not far removed from the network effect of social networks, or software, or other monopolistic services. Once everyone starts to say “such as Facebook and Twitter”, there isn’t much point in bucking the trend.


Facebook: is the party over?

In all the hoopla surrounding the Goldman Sachs investment in Facebook, one thing seems odd.

It isn’t the money – Facebook made $2bn in revenues last year, apparently, which isn’t bad (although we need to remember that revenues aren’t profit – finance 1.01).

And it isn’t the ambition – Facebook is making itself the de facto log in for half the web. Nor is it platform issues: people look at Facebook on iPhones, Android phones and so on.

It’s the traffic.

Facebook is first and foremost a network. And the laws of networks mean that the more people join, the more useful they are, and the more connections are made. It’s exponential – just think of the moment when 2 people are on a network, and a third person joins – the number of possible connections doubles each time.

Now look at these charts – they are from Wolfram Alpha, who use Alexa as their source.

The number of users just keeps growing:

Facebook users, 2010

Facebook users, 2010

But the traffic doesn’t:

Facebook pageviews, 2010

Facebook pageviews, 2010

You would think that the traffic would mirror the user growth. In fact, given the network effect, it should outpace it.

So what’s going on? Either Facebook’s new users are dud accounts, or the older users are getting tired. People are either spending less time on the site, or are turning up less frequently. According to Alexa, the time on the site is relatively static too, but the daily pageviews per user are falling:

Facebook pageviews per user

Facebook pageviews per user

But this should be a worry for the company. They aren’t in the business of charging users, and may never be if the right revenue model comes along. So usage is everything. Facebook’s growth may seem relentless in terms of the numbers of people signed up, but boredom is a very dangerous thing for a network. When was the last time you logged into MySpace?

Goldman may have made a great investment, or they might just be turning up to the party as all the cool people are leaving. We’ll see.

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