There’s been a lot of talk about the legendary “Facebook exodus” of late, not least of which stemmed from a New York Times Magazine article of the same name detailing why, for one reason or another, users are beginning to flee the social networking giant. But Nielsen’s July time-spent-per-user numbers for the biggest 20 Web sites tell a different story. While the anecdotes might suggest some people are leaving Facebook in search of the next big thing (whatever that may be), many others are logging in and staying on.
Facebook users averaged five hours and 12 minutes logged into the site in July, up from just one and a half hours in July of last year, and nearly two hours more than distant second place rival Yahoo (three hours and 23 minutes). AOL was another hour behind at two hours, 36 minutes. Fox and MSN rounded out the top five, with two hours 19 minutes and two hours, eight minutes respectively.
If Facebook’s popularity is waning, as some would have us believe, why is it still so adept at drawing users in and keeping them around for so long? One explanation is the “network effect,” or, in the parlance of the times, call it a tipping point. Facebook has become so large that when a user logs on there are so many users to connect to, to play games with, to search and interact with, that each time a user logs in he or she spends longer and longer on the site.
Of course, the exodus anecdotes do have a basis in reality. Complaints have bounced around the blogosphere and around real-world Gen Y hangouts that Facebook, once THE social network for young people (remember, it was once restricted to college students) has forsaken its cool now that Mom, Grandma, and the boss are all logged in. What’s important to remember is that for every angry defector from Facebook pining away over this narrative, there were three hypothetical new users (Mom, Grandma and the boss) that logged in.
The reality is, Facebook has 250 million worldwide users, and half of those users log in every day, a rate that has remained constant over the last few years. The amount of time those users spend on Facebook is an important metric too; as the site grows, it naturally becomes harder to grow off of new users alone, as there are only so many users and man-hours that can be spent playing Mafia Wars or collecting Easter eggs across Facebook’s servers. But coaxing users to spend more time on the site ups Facebook’s relevance to marketers constantly seeking increased engagement with larger audiences. So while there may be a contingent of the Facebook universe that’s tuning out, there are still plenty of users tuning in, and that group seems to have real staying power.