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Are people really spending as much time on Facebook as we think?

 
For some time now, I’ve noticed a subtle but steady shift in the behavior of my social circle, as they spend increasingly less time on Facebook and more time on other social networks – most significantly, Twitter. Such a claim may seem trivial when you compare the two: In 2011 Facebook attained 800 million users with earnings of $4.27 billion while Twitter had 200 million users with earnings of $139.5 million. Even so, I’m not the only one who’s wondering if things are actually what they seem: Facebook vs. Twitter

While Facebook’s numbers still reflect positive growth, a closer look reveals that most of that growth, 60 percent yearly, comes from untapped global markets. Asia-Pacific and Latin America are two such markets with huge populations experiencing Facebook for the very first time. However growth is waning in western markets – with Europe at 35 percent and North America at only 25 percent. This pattern of growth is most certainly why Facebook keeps expanding in emerging markets as they continue to saturate seasoned ones.

So why do audiences grow so rapidly in emerging markets?  Possibly because of a kind of “Facebook phenomenon,” in which a person’s highest point of interest is when they first join and are still making fresh connections. Then as time passes, some experience Facebook fatigue. As a user’s network expands and becomes more cluttered with irrelevant content, their social experience becomes more predictable. One way Facebook is trying to combat this issue is Timeline. While it’s still too soon to tell, it will be interesting to see if Timeline is able to re-ignite and prolong Facebook’s initial excitement of discovery for veteran Facebook users.

So who is the primary beneficiary of this subtle shift that is underway? Many would say Twitter. Even though the two social networks are seen quite differently (Facebook more as identity management and Twitter as news with possibility), people are making a choice between the two. This tweet captures it nicely: “Facebook is for friends who are now strangers; Twitter is for strangers who should be your friends.”

Perhaps Twitter’s biggest advantage is not its ability to constantly evolve, but rather that its evolution comes from users not just updates. With its organic user behavior, unpredictable nature and pure outpouring of ideas and opinions, Twitter is able to do what Facebook has not: consistently facilitate fresh experiences.

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