April 2, 2013

As Facebook matures, is it losing its edge?

The Associated Press

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Daniel Singer,13m works at his computer at home in Los Angeles recently. Singer thinks the average teenager wants to see new stuff. For him, Facebook is part of a daily routine. "Kind of like brushing your teeth," he says.

AP

"They are not necessarily at that point where some of the younger generation is, where they have News Feed overload," Gordon says.

Robert Worden, who is 62 and has nearly 1,100 friends on Facebook, isn't overwhelmed. He says he got on Facebook two or three years ago primarily to establish a relationship with his estranged son, whom he didn't see for a quarter century before he found him on Facebook.

Through his son, he also found out he had a granddaughter, who has been adopted and used Facebook to find her biological family when she turned 18. They are now all connected.

Worden, who lives in Paducah, Ky., says he probably wouldn't have found his son were it not for Facebook, never mind his granddaughter. He also reconnected with people from his Memphis, Tenn., neighborhood using Facebook — people he had not seen in half a century. The neighborhood, he says, "literally fell apart" in the 1960s, "and we had never been able to get back together."

"So someone said 'why don't you start a Facebook page?" he says. The group recently had its first reunion. Fifty people showed up.

Worden says Facebook is his "major communication tool to the world."

"Other people use news and I don't find the nightly news or daily news to be adequate," he says. "On Facebook I can actually hear from people who are living in the places where things are happening, and I can get instant information."

Daniel Singer is 13 and, according to his public Facebook profile, he enjoys "designing beautiful user interfaces and sitting down at my desk and creating great iOS apps." Last year, the eighth-grader created YouTell, a site that lets people ask for anonymous feedback from friends. You can use Facebook to log in, or email. As someone who designs applications, Singer calls Facebook's graphical design "brilliant." Still, he thinks the average teenager wants to see new stuff. Twitter comes to mind, along with Instagram and Pheed, a photo-text-video-audio sharing app launched last fall.

For Singer, Facebook is part of a daily routine. "Kind of like brushing your teeth," he says.

In the seven years since Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his Harvard dormitory, Facebook has moved from a closed social networking service available to college students to a place where one seventh of the world's population logs in at least once a month. No other social networking fad has accomplished such a feat.

Facebook predecessors MySpace and Friendster shone brightly but fizzled once finicky teenagers moved on to the next big thing. To boyd, though, Facebook is not only a destination site, but "a technical architecture that underlies many different things."

"It's not about new features to lure people back in," boyd says. A bigger question now, she says: What does it mean when your company is providing a vital service, rather than "a fun, glittery object"?

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, whose for-profit content creation site Wikia recently surveyed its young users about their technology habits, agrees. Teenagers, he says, "do see value in Facebook."

"I think we are seeing a shift from (it being) a place to talk to each other as just part of the world —the infrastructure of the world," he says. "I don't know if that's to the detriment of Facebook in the long run."

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