Facebook has turned 10 which is a very ancient age indeed for any digital service considering the blistering pace of technological change. To mark Zuck’s baby’s tenth Birthday, the Pew Research Center report has put out some new research looking at how people in the U.S. are using the service, and the things they really like and don’t like about it.
For the past five+ years of Facebook’s lifespan scores of apps have bubbled in and out of existence every week, with only a fraction going the distance to scale up and build a sustainable business. Yet fb has hung in there, even as digital social habits have shifted and the Internet as a whole has become a very different place to when Zuck & co started out.
Pew’s research underlines this core point:
The Facebook has managed to retain category dominance despite growing into the grand old daddy of the digital social space. The research found that Facebook is used by 57% of all adults, and 73% of all those ages 12-17.
Add to that, Pew found that adult Facebook usage is “intensifying”, with 64% of Facebook users visiting the site on a daily basis, up from 51% of users in 2010. So far from (U.S.) users getting bored with Facebook, the service is apparently managing to get stickier still in its oldest stamping ground, the older it gets.
Previous Pew research noted some change in usage of Facebook by teens, although the organisation also emphasized that teens weren’t abandoning the service entirely — at least, not at that point. (Although Facebook subsequently admitted some drop in usage among teens, last October.) In its latest research Pew says only that usage among teens remains “high”. It did not gather data on the intensity of teens’ usage of Facebook for this piece of research, so teen fb engagement remains a measure to keep an eye on as the service heads for its own troubled teens.
The research did look at the relative size of users’ friendship networks on Facebook. Half of all adult Facebook users have more than 200 friends in their network, according to the data, although a sizeable chunk (39%) have far fewer: between just 1 and 100 friends. The average (mean) number of friends among adult Facebook users is 338, and the median (midpoint) is 200. An outlying 15% have more than 500 friends.
Also noteworthy: younger Facebook users tend to have significantly larger friend networks than older users. Pew found that 27% of 18-29 year old Facebook users have more than 500 friends in their network, vs 72% of users age 65+ having 100 friends or fewer.
Moving to the dislikes front, Pew found that Facebook users don’t like TMI floating around in their newsfeed, and do care about key aspects of their own privacy (as well as cringing on behalf of others).
The research found that people are most annoyed by: others’ oversharing — cited as something they “strongly dislike” by 36% of users; and, also hated by 36%, people posting personal info/things such as photos without asking permission first.
Pew notes that the latter dislike is especially a problem for parents trying to manage the privacy of their children, and disliking others posting photos of their kids to Facebook without asking.
The next most common dislike also sits at the intersection of sharing and privacy — namely: “Other people seeing posts or comments you didn’t mean for them to see” (cited as a strong dislike by 27% of respondents).
Very few Facebook users care about FOMO, according to the research — with just 5% of users saying they strongly dislike seeing posts about social activities they were not included in. (Perhaps because they’re too busy cringing at others’ oversharing to be jealous of not being there.)
Interestingly, relatively few users apparently feel pressurised by Facebook in terms of the kind of content they feel is expected they should be generating, or pressure regarding how popular their posts will prove to be — although a not insignificant portion (24%) do say they strongly dislike the temptation or pressure to share too much information about themselves. (TMI again.)
But just 12% are really annoyed by feeling pressurised to post content that will be popular/get lots of comments/likes; and the same (small) portion said they feel pressure to comment on others’ content.
All of which feeds a sense of Facebook as more of a passive than an active place; a space where users spend most of their time peering into other people’s lives — sometimes cringing in the process — and forgetting to worry about themselves along the way.
Feeding into that voyeuristic sense is Pew’s data on what users really like about Facebook. The research notes that women and men often have varying reasons for why they use the service but adds that “everything starting with sharing and laughs” is the common ground.
For female Facebook users, the platform is predominantly for photo-sharing/viewing. A majority (54%) of female respondents cited seeing photos or videos as major reasons for them using Facebook (vs 39% of men), according to Pew’s research.
A majority (50%) of women also rated “sharing with many people at once” as a major motivator for using the service, vs 42% of men (this reason was also the dominant reason for using fb among male users). The next big appeal of the service for women was “seeing entertaining or funny posts” — cited by 43% of women, vs 35% of men. Also relatively popular with both women and men: receiving updates or comments (cited as a factor by 39%).
Yet only a small proportion of men and women said they are hugely motivated to use Facebook as a means for “Getting feedback on content you have posted” — cited by just 17% of women, and 16% of men. Which again feeds into the sense of Facebook as a broad-brush platform for browsing photos and broadcasting general funny stuff to a large audience but not necessarily for garnering specific, personalised responses to more nuanced, less throwaway stuff. Ergo, Facebook is positioned in the mainstream middle of the road.
Another area where that general and rather impersonal usage pattern is evident in the data is Pew’s findings on specific frequent behaviours. The research found Facebook users engage most in ‘liking’ content and commenting on photos, yet update their own status only very occasionally.
According to Pew, 44% of Facebook users “like” content posted by their friends at least once a day, with close to a third (29%) doing so several times per day. Also almost a third (31%) said they comment on other people’s photos on a daily basis, with 15% doing so several times per day.
This compares to less than a fifth (19%) who send private Facebook messages to their friends on a daily basis, and 10% who send these messages multiple times per day.
Meanwhile just 10% change or update their own status on Facebook on a daily basis, with an outlying fractional (and probably oversharing) 4% updating their status several times per day.
Yet a sizeable 25% of Facebook users — that’s a full quarter of users — say that they never change or update their own Facebook status. But then with so many photos of other people’s stuff to eyeball, it’s clearly a function of Facebook that’s (become) easily overlooked.
The research also shed light on how many users have had requests from others to “unfriend” someone on the service: 12% said they’d been asked to do this at some point. Pew found younger users are more likely to have experienced this, with 19% of 18-29 year old Facebook users having had a friend removal request vs 10% of 30-49 year olds; 7% of 50-64 year olds; and 5% of those 65 and older.
These “friend removal” requests tend to come primarily from other friends (35%), or from current (23%) or former (12%) spouses or romantic partners, according to the findings; while 38% of those who received this type of request say that they were asked to remove a friend from their Facebook network, and 22% were asked to unfriend a former romantic partner.
Finally, furthering the ubiquity of Facebook as a household name/brand, in homes where there are non-fb users, many of these hold-outs still have some familiarity with the site through other household members, according to Pew, with the research finding that among Internet users who do not use Facebook themselves, a majority (52%) say that someone else in their household has an account — and almost a quarter (24%) of those non-adopters saying they look at photos or posts on the account of the fb adopter they live with.
Pew’s research was based on data collected in the U.S. via landline and mobile telephone interviews, conducted in English and Spanish, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from August 7 to September 16, 2013, among a sample of 1,801 adults, age 18 and older.