The WSJ repeats a familiar line when describing Facebook in its subhead: “Youthful Audience Is Fickle.” The article goes on to say “As the Internet has sped up the life cycle of success and failure, it is possible some of these sites will flame out as their young devotees flock to the next thing.”
The media has displayed an attitude that “the youth” (though in Facebook’s case, they’ve got alumni in their mid-twenties using it religiously) use social networking sites because they’re cool, just as they might choose to go to a trendy night club because it’s the “in” thing this week. They seem to forget that it delivers a clear value to users: the ability to keep in touch with real-life friends. For recent grads, Facebook is an alumni directory on steroids. For current students, it’s like a school newspaper that comes out hourly with photos from every party on campus.
If Facebook is a fad, perhaps every media outlet targeting youth is too. But MTV had relevance for over a decade with this fickle audience, and has only recently lost ground. AOL Instant Messenger, despite a much slower pace of innovation than Facebook, has held on to a young audience in America for over a decade too. CollegeHumor has been a profitable site for years. And unlike most of these properties, Facebook has the potential to continue to deliver value as its userbase ages.
If history’s a guide, Facebook has its best years to come. The media outlets speculating on Facebook’s future should worry more about how fickle their own audience is.