The tenuous lifecycle of the modern social network

by James Duthie December 25th, 2009 

Just recently the much vaunted Foursquare finally made its way into the Australian market. Which of course sent the Aussie early adopters into a feeding frenzy, in the process flooding my Twitter stream and RSS reader with local Foursquare buzz. For most of 2009, weve heard about how Foursquare could be the next Twitter. Weve heard how it may finally bring some real substance to the mobile marketing hype. But rather than writing another article about the potential of Foursquare, I thought itd be far more interesting to tackle the fad-like nature that sees the rapid rise and fall of modern social networks.

Its not long until my personal blog celebrates its second birthday. Yet in that relatively short period of time Ive seen the rapid ascent and just-as-rapid decline of numerous social networks. Social media has always been the primary driver of traffic to my blog. In particular, three social networks have taken the position of numero uno traffic referrer at some point " StumbleUpon, Sphinn and Twitter. Yet today, StumbleUpon and Sphinn are as good as dead. Without digging into the precise data, the traffic patterns from these three networks would look something like this:


Interesting huh? At one point StumbleUpon accounted for up to 70%+ of site traffic, albeit during the first 6-12 months of establishment (the growth phase of the blog). Yet in a matter of months it was rendered practically irrelevant. Similarly Sphinn went very swiftly from being a key contributor to a non-contributor. But why?

User exodus. Id say Twitter directly influenced the downfall of both networks by providing a superior platform for content sharing. Its a story weve seen repeatedly through the short history of social networks. First there was Friendster. Then there was MySpace

I certainly wouldnt be the first person to draw the comparison between a social network and a nightclub. One minute youre the hottest spot in town, and the next youre a ghost town.

Which makes me wonder at what point it will be Twitters turn, which despite a dream run through 2009, has started to plateau in growth. Or Facebook for that matter. Sure both may seem bullet proof for now, but who would have predicted the rapid fall from grace of MySpace in 2006? Rupert Murdoch certainly didnt. If Foursquare isnt in fact the next Twitter, something else will take its place.

Because its not really a question of if, but when it will happen

Facebook is perhaps the only network with genuine claims to infallibility, having truly transcended into the mainstream consciousness. Facebook is almost as ubiquitous to social networking as Google is to search. Yet its users will ultimately dictate whether it retains its position perched atop of the tree. While the switching costs are higher than ever before (based upon mass adoption and usage of the platform), a mass exodus is not unfeasible. Indeed, Facebooks recent push to get users to share more data publicly via their new recommended privacy settings is just one example of a molehill that could ultimately become a mountain.

Many casual users will fail to comprehend the implications of Facebooks new privacy settings, simply agreeing to them because they trust Facebook. Ive already seen it amongst my friendship network. And theres no question users will feel deceived when they discover that those private photos they posted to Facebook are suddenly accessible to family members, bosses, recruiters etc

Will it cause a mass exodus? Probably not. But as soon as any social network begins putting its own needs ahead of its users, just as Facebook has done recently, it puts itself at risk.

So what do you think? Are Facebook and Twitter truly part of our modern way of life? Or are they living on borrowed time?


James Duthie is an online marketing strategist and also writes & manages his own online marketing blog. You can subscribe here.

James Duthie

I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.

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3 Responses to “The tenuous lifecycle of the modern social network”

  1. Very interesting. Easy come, easy go. I find them all quite annoying but have to be aware of the "fads" that run through the web. I'll be watching with interest to see if your prediction comes true.

  2. Yup social media platforms come and go, but some definitely have more staying power than others. I think that the one constant is that social media is here to stay, in one form or another. Our job is to figure out what rising stars to hitch our wagons to.

  3. lamcold says:

    I think that the one constant is that social media is here to stay, in one form or another. Our job is to figure out what rising stars to hitch our wagons to.
    good post