Facebook’s recent $1 billion acquisition of Instagram triggered an avalanche of different reactions, including a negative one from Instagram users who liked the photo-sharing app precisely because it wasn’t Facebook.
On the tech-filled streets of the Mission, many of those who use social networks said that they favored Instagram and others such as Path for reaching smaller networks of friends.
“To me, Facebook used to be interesting when it was just college students joining it,” said Sean McCullough, a software engineer. “When parents started using it and other people started trying to actually do serious business on it, it lost all its pizazz to me.”
It would take a lot to blunt the power of Facebook, which has more than 845 million active monthly users and is expected to reach 1 billion by next August, according to papers filed in February for its public offering this month. But like Yahoo or MySpace, has it become passé among the young and hip?
Already its growth is slowing, with the number of users up by only 13.6 per cent in 2011, a considerably smaller figure than the previous year, when users jumped by 38.6 per cent, according to digital intelligence gatherer eMarketer.
“When I first joined, I found it fun, but that wore off quite quickly,” said Natasha, who works as a primary school teacher in San Francisco. “Some people continue to post the same things all the time, which makes the whole thing very repetitive.”
For some, Facebook’s reach is simply too great, and that has made them turn to other online platforms to connect — especially when it comes to sharing artistic or more sensitive content.
Alecz Bendt, a student, acknowledged that he’s “addicted to Facebook,” yet he also uses other platforms, such as Instagram and Photobucket, to share his pictures.
On these sites, he said, “I’m free to do what I want and create the art I like, which I can’t always show to everyone.” They offer a way for him to escape the crowds on Facebook, where some of his family members or colleagues could see what he does not necessarily want to show them.
Others, like web designer Michelle Mederos, also a frequent Instagram user, like to separate activities on the web according what they’re doing. “On Instagram, I upload moments or sights I really want to share with the world,” she said, whereas when she uses Facebook she is more likely to “write complaints about [her] life.”
One visual effects designer who declined to give her name said she prefers turning to platforms that allow for greater personalization, such as Pinterest. There, she said, users connect according to explicitly labeled themes and interests.
“I think it’s a better, more personal way to surf the Internet than Facebook. This way, you can follow people according to their interests; it’s easier to find stuff that is directly appealing to you.”
Going a step further, communications officer Stephen Mayo said he found “an alternative” to Facebook through Instagram.
“I enjoy looking at pictures more than reading what people are doing or following their status updates on Facebook,” he said.
The picture-sharing app has become so important to him that he claims he would be “put off by any interference from Facebook,” its new mother company.
Others have committed the ultimate act of social rebellion: they have quit Facebook, plain and simple.
Though there are no official figures, in June 2011 Inside Facebook, which looks at the social network’s financial and technical development, reported that Facebook had lost close to 6 million U.S. users between May and June that year.
One of these rebels was waiter Trevor Goosen. “I used to be on some social networks, but I felt too distracted, so I gave up,” he said, defining these services as a “huge waste of time.”
Stacey, also a public school teacher, agrees. She too dropped out of Facebook and other social media platforms, now limiting herself to Skype and her cellphone.
What truly bothered her was the loss of privacy. “I think [it] is invasive of other people’s lives and mine,” she said.
Before closing her account, Stacey said, she spent some time snooping into people’s profiles. “I ended up knowing things that I was not supposed to know and I would not have been able to find otherwise.”
Those who leave, however, are still a minority.
“I have friends who have given up Facebook and joined other networks,” said Noelle Skool, “but I don’t really care that much. I simply don’t post things that I wouldn’t want people to see.”
Many still see Facebook as a key tool in their social and work lives despite the drawbacks. This is the case of Olivia June, a communications expert for a marketing company.
“Mass adoption makes it difficult to use it — I mean, even your grandma is on Facebook,” she said. But it remains a great platform for marketing or simply being in the midst of what everyone else is up to.
“I didn’t use it for a long time,” said Derek Philipps. “But when [other websites such as] MySpace wound down, I simply followed along,” he said. “I try not to think about the changes they keep making to their website or about their policies.”
Some, like musician Noah Grant, are grudgingly aware of just how big Facebook actually is. Despite its controversial policies on content-sharing, Grant continues to use the website to advertise his music.
“It inconveniences me,” he admitted, “but I would rather have people pirate my music and know it is there instead of them not being able to access it.”