People like to know about the next big thing, and feel anxious until they've pinned it down. And for quite a while it was safe to say that Facebook was it – both the reigning current big thing and the next big thing, an easy answer for parents, marketers, social commentators, and anyone else trying to pin down where the action is taking place online.
And while 2013 won't be remembered as the year that Facebook died (or even faltered), it does seem to be a turning point in the social network's history, as it pivots from the end-all-be-all to the conservative favorite among an unruly pack of social media upstarts.
A Monitor post from earlier this year captures a quote from the authors of a Pew study that sums up the zeitgeist quite nicely, speaking of:
...the sense of a social burden teens associated with Facebook. While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens’ everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own.
A recent back and forth on Slate and Mashable offers insight into how the conversation is playing out at the end of 2013. A 13-year-old blogger at Mashable posted a much-shared item entitled "I'm 13 and None of My Friends Use Facebook"; Slate wrote a (self-consciously) condescending rebuttal lamenting that "the ascendant paradigm for forecasting the future seems to center on first-person anecdotes and unsupported hearsay from random teenagers"; and then Slate acknowledged new data (summed up in this Business Insider report) revealing that, oh, oops – the random teenager was essentially right.
So if the cool bloom is definitively off the rose at Facebook, what's picking up the slack? The answer via various studies and surveys is "Twitter, and more."
Twitter moves faster than Facebook, and promises a higher level of anonymity and a greater opportunity for snarking and sniping (although as one Washington insider discovered last month, "somewhat anonymous" and "completely anonymous" are different in very important ways.)
Along with the decline of the word comes the rise of the image, and the picture-sharing service Instagram is one of the fastest, sleekest, most forgiving ways to turn whatever you happen to be looking at into Internet candy. Its photos filters render even half-competent snaps enchanting, and its relative isolation from other social media channels makes it a bit of an island retreat unto itself.
Long the home for snarky, updated-every-minute reblogged image blogs and avant garde art blogs (as well as a host of not-safe-for-work blogs that took advantage of Tumblr's flexible, fast-moving format) the Tumblr blogging platform is the Internet's all-night party – a little wild, a little inaccessible, and dependably weird. Only time will tell if its acquisition by Yahoo! will smother the vibe.
4) "Other" – Formspring, Snapchat, Ask.fm
Many of the newer, lesser-known social media channels are appealing as much for what they obscure (identity, even messages themselves after they've been deleted) as for what they reveal. Teens who want to (insert your misbehavior of choice here: sext, talk about drugs, badmouth parents, and peers) are increasingly aware of the long trail left by posting online, and convinced that sneakier services are preferable to better behavior.
The overall movement of teen interest may reflect a lot of things: Facebook hitting the saturation point, other social networks mining fresh niches, and teens asking themselves two important questions?
"Where are my parents / teachers / obligations?" (Increasingly: Facebook.)
"Where are my friends?" (Also Facebook, but increasingly also somewhere else.)
And that "somewhere else" quickly becomes the adults-free social space that teens have been seeking since Romeo and Juliet. (And, no doubt, well before that.)