Starting out in college dorms, Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) exclusivity made it cool. Over time, Facebook relaxed its parameters and began accepting any user in the world. And as the dominant social network, those bullish on Facebook believe its network effects will keep it relevant and avoid the declines of past online behemoths like AOL and MySpace. But the more skeptical look at Instagram's quick rise suggest that the next generation has already moved on from Facebook.
It it true? Are kids "over" Facebook? A recent Pew study sheds some light on this question.
Kids still use it
Even though having one's parents and grandparents on Facebook takes away from its cool factor, it turns out that kids still use it. This should give Facebook investors some confidence in its staying power, as it has integrated itself deeply into both the Internet's structure and society.
According to the survey, the percentage of social media-using teens who use Facebook increased from 93% in 2011 to 94% in 2012. Somehow, the site became more popular.
Of course, other sites gained and fell in popularity. Twitter's popularity increased from 12% of social teens to 26%. MySpace fell from 24% to 7%. While Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) fell from 7% to 2%, its new acquisition, Tumblr, increased from 2% to 5%. And, despite Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) attempts with Google Plus, only 3% of social media-using teens reported having a profile on the service.
Yahoo!'s billion-dollar-plus purchase of Tumblr looks like a shrewd move to capture users in the next generation, especially as page views move to more mobile platforms. Tumblr itself reports that its mobile page views are growing three times faster than desktop views, and mobile usage of the site will overtake desktop users later this year or early next year.
Google released a revamped Google Plus last week, with new features such as automatically adding related hashtags to posts, upping the amount of free space offered to store photos, and releasing a stand-alone "Hangouts" application. In the latest numbers Google gave in December, Google Plus had 500 million users, with 135 million actively using the site directly and not just through Gmail or search.
But how do they use it?
While these percentages help clarify general usage, the focus group quotes paint a more detailed picture of how the networks are used. For one, the presence of parents on Facebook forces teens to find other platforms. As a 19-year-old female states: "Yeah, that's why we go on Twitter and Instagram [instead of Facebook]. My mom doesn't have that." Also, Facebook is much more an extension of the real world than strictly an online realm. A 13-year-old girl says:
I feel like over Facebook, people can say whatever they want to. They can message you. And on Instagram you can delete the comment really easily, and you don't have to live with it, kind of. Whereas Facebook, if they say something mean, it hurts more. I don't know why it does. And also [Instagram] it's not public, so people tend to not come off so mean.
For many teens, a love-hate relationship with Facebook exists. They use it the most often out of any social network, but like to employ other services to communicate outside of what they might want to be easily seen in their public Facebook profile.
And, even though it appears Facebook has an unassailable dominance, new services like Instagram still crop up and become a hit with teens. Snapchat, an image messaging service that limits the time an image or video is able to be seen, is the latest popular application. As a 16-year-old girl says:
Well, because Facebook, everyone sees what I'm doing. But Snapchat is just to one person, unless they're a jerk and they screenshot it and post it on Facebook. But mostly it's just the person that you're sending it to, so it's like a conversation.
Moats and network effects
Facebook is well aware of threats, and like the case with Instagram, isn't afraid to shell out some cash to stop them. The fluid nature of Internet popularity still might spark some doubts in Facebook's ability to stay on top, but so far, the data shows no such drop off for the next generation.
Fool contributor Dan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.