“With more than 150 million active users, Facebook is, quite simply, where it’s at,” writes PC World’s Brennon Slattery in an article called Happy Birthday, Facebook: 5 Reasons We Love You. Why does it matter if we have a winner when it comes to social networking sites, and is Facebook that winner? People want to be included in what’s hot right now, even if that means cancelling your old Friendster or Hi5 accounts and jumping on the Facebook bandwagon. Ultimately you want to be were your friends are, otherwise there is no point. In this sense, Facebook has pwned Friendster and Hi5 because of popularity. The concept of “pwned” is derived from online gamers and has gained increasing momentum. It’s used to describe the total domination of one item over another. According to UrbanDictionary.com, it’s domination “by an opponent or situation.”
With active members in “more than 35 different languages and in 170 different countries” along with 150 million users and counting, Facebook is the one to defeat. Launched in 2003, Friendster and Hi5 hold an audience of 95 million and 60 million users around the world respectively. Friendster has been struggling with past issues surrounding technical problems and an uninformed management which has impacted their popularity. Critiqued in a 2006 New York Times article, “Friendster ended up with three levels of V.P.’s, C.E.O.’s and board members who…were not connected to the social networking concept and didn’t really use Friendster… as Friendster became more popular, its overwhelmed Web site became slower…Web page took as long as 40 seconds to download…technical difficulties proved too pedestrian for a board of this pedigree…the board devoted most of its time to talking about potential competitors and new features.” In a video report, New York Times reporter Gary Rivlin stated that Friendster created “a new industry” but ended up being “unrealized promise.” (Click to see the 2006 video: Fall of Friendster.)
Hi5 has had more success abroad even though it is a U.S. company. PC World highlighted them in an article 10 Web Sites That Will Matter in 2009 because their “music and video applications rival those of other, more popular social networks, and Hi5’s mobile app is first rate.” Hi5 will probably not compete with Facebook’s massive audience within the next year, but it’s predicted “that could change…people in the U.S. are discovering the site, a trend line that will likely keep bending upward in the next 12 months.”
Despite being relatively unknown in the U.S. due to its focus on an international audience, in 2008 CNN reported that Hi5 is “growing by leaps and bounds thanks to its focus on Spanish-speaking countries…the site nearly doubled its users in the past year to 56 million in August from just 32 million a year earlier…they pay particular attention to their Spanish-speaking audiences, making sure to capture the differences between Argentinian slang, for example, and Mexican slang.”
Whether we’ll see Hi5 emerge as a contender with Facebook in the next few years is yet to be determined. What we can count on is the continuance of social media concepts seeping into our everyday lives. For instance, the implications of “friending” or “de-friending” someone on Facebook can carry more weight offline as the boundaries of social relationships change. Being included or excluded can create feelings of belonging or insult which are reminiscent to the days before social networking sites were popular. These concepts just help reinforce the assumed importance of social networking to people’s lives.
But how can “friending” someone make Facebook more successful? There is the exponential driver when “friending.” Author Helen Nicol explains in her article The Psychology of Social Computing: What Best Explains the Success of Facebook, that there is a psychological driver to gaining more friends which can be due to “the insecurities in people.” In essence, having more friends means you are cooler; “your peers can see your profile on Facebook, and while they may have 50, 100, 200 friends they will mockingly see that you have a pathetically small number, confirming your worst fears about the low opinion they have probably held of you over all those years.” Therefore, seeking out more friends drives even more people to Facebook.
Friendster and Hi5 could have the most delicious UX design and best advertising model, but that does not ensure people will flock from Facebook. In fact, many people have multiple social networking identities, but to convert they need to be offered something better than what they already have. According to a Forrester study of tech-savvy teens, “31% of online teens regularly use more than one email account, 25% have multiple screen names for IM, and 28% maintain more than one social networking profile. These multiple identities may help teens manage their various social circles.” Your social networking identities are your online doppelgangers that represent how you will interact in that particular space. Possibly Facebook has the most streamlined and understandable social networking identity the masses agree with. For example, you can network with business associates, classmates and old high school friends. Of course this all sits accurate right now, but as we see with other sites like Friendster or Hi5, a perception of what the site does changes with the evolution of how people exchange information online.
According to a Wired article, 6 New Web Technologies of 2008 You Need to Use Now, author Michael Calore talks about the importance of “complex interdependencies” between tools. It could be that right now Facebook is the answer to the current interdependencies, as it integrates multiple applications like Flickr and Twitter, photo and video sharing and promises increased security. “It was the moment that Scrabulous died that signified how important and cherished Facebook apps are to users. They’re easy to install, fun to use, and a great way to pass the time,” (Slattery).
This past week marked Facebook’s fifth birthday, accompanied by marketing efforts aimed to highlight the milestone. A quick Google search for “Facebook, 5th Birthday” resulted in 6,570 hits which suggests how important Facebook is to the public. Founder Mark Zuckerberg noted in his post, “Facebook is mostly the product of the people who use it. Without you and the connections you make to others, the products we create wouldn’t have much meaning.” This is in part why Facebook stands to possibly retain their users, because management listens and understands their community. The future of social networking will continue to alter the way we communicate since it has become so much a part of our reality. Will Facebook keep users from migrating to a newer social network by evolving with their users, we will see.