Exodus from Facebook? Friends beg to differ

Wow, Facebook is so over -- really. Virginia Heffernan said so in The New York Times. She should know, she writes about these kinds of things. A lot. She wins awards, too.

Here's what she said last week: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Facebook, the online social grid, could not command loyalty forever. If you ask around, as I did, you'll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word."

So I'm looking for some facts and figures. You know, data. She gets close. Or not. You be the judge: "The exodus is not evident from the site's overall numbers. According to comScore, Facebook attracted 87.7 million unique visitors in the United States in July. But while people are still joining Facebook and compulsively visiting the site, a small but noticeable group are fleeing -- some of them ostentatiously." Oy. "Small but noticeable."

Small? Can't tell -- did I mention there's no numbers? Noticeable, maybe, now that Heffernan has brought in the mighty Klieg lights from the folks who cover "all the news that's fit to print." Heffernan's Exhibit A is one Leif Harmsen, who "crusades" against Facebook. It's sucking his soul away. Or something. There's a slavery analogy in there, too. And then she talks with her friends. Her friends.

"Postings that seem private can scatter and slip," one says.

"I felt fairly detached from my Facebook buddies because I rarely directly contacted them," says another.

"I have noticed the exodus, and I kind of feel like it's kids getting tired of a new toy," another Facebooker says in an e-mail.

Exodus? A biblical kind of mass migration out of slavery? Here's what we know. Facebook boasts more than 250 million registered users. More than $600 million in investment capital has been sunk into the site, which now has an estimated value of $10 billion. ComScore ranked Facebook #5 in its Top 50 U.S. Web properties for July, behind only Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL, but ahead of Fox Interactive (which includes MySpace), it's highest showing ever with almost 88 million unique visitors for the month. And Bloomberg News reported in late August that "Facebook may expand its staff by 40 percent to 50 percent this year as it benefits from a surplus of engineers amid the recession." That's according to Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg.

That doesn't sound like a company suffering from an exodus of customers. But in the spirit of Heffernan's piece, I should say that I do know people who have signed up, taken a look at postings from friends about soggy cereal and profound quotes from 80s hair bands, said "yikes" and bailed out. I also asked a few acquaintances if they thought Facebook was over, or if they would quit.

"No. How's that for an answer?" said Dusty Trice, a peripatetic blogger/tweeter/status updater who worked for Al Franken's Senate campaign. In fact, Trice figures he couldn't live -- or get noticed -- nearly as well without it. And the guy knows how to draw an audience. His "personal branding tool" is hosting his latest gimmick: He's challenged himself to eat 50 corn dogs in 12 days at the State Fair, and posting the results of every one on his Facebook page. (Current corn dog count is 28, for those of you keeping score at home.)

"I could easily live without Facebook, but it is something I enjoy in many ways," said Ed Timek, who works in radio ad sales in the Twin Cities. "First off, lots of my friends post interesting articles that I might not see if it wasn't for Facebook. Secondly, I've connected with so many people that I hadn't spoken to in years, and its been a lot of fun. Yes, there are some people I probably didn't need to reconnect with, but for the most part, its all positive."

"I'd say rumors of Facebook's demise are terribly exaggerated," said Chris Truscott, an assistant professor of political science at Brown College in Mendota Heights. "Yes, Facebook is commercial, but what isn't? My bank sends me things based on what I buy with my Visa. What Facebook's doing isn't any different. Like The New York Times, it's not going anywhere."

Besides, if we cancel our subscriptions, there might be a mass exodus.

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