How I helped Facebook

I’ve done Facebook a favour this morning. I deactivated my account. Facebook should be delighted; it’s people like me who are way past their social networking heyday who are killing social networking sites.

Here’s why: young people have always needed somewhere to hang out, but they only do this when it’s ‘their place’. For a brief period Facebook was that place. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the kids started looking for another place after they discovered their mum’s got an account. And their teacher. And their teacher’s favourite dishwasher tablet.

Facebook stopped being cool the minute ‘their place’ became ‘our place’.

But even if every non-core Facebook user like me was to deactivate their account I wonder if it will be enough. Can Facebook ever be cool again? With ever-increasing pressure on social networking sites to "monetize" (I hate that word) their business, the advertisers are cautiously moving in. Does anyone want to hang out in a place where toothpaste, fizzy drinks, mobile phones, and credit cards are constantly fighting for our attention? And our mum’s.

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, Facebook’s UK user base fell by 5% in January to 8.51 million. That’s 400,000 people who switched off their accounts. MySpace also dropped 5%, while third placed Bebo fell 2%.

Is this the beginning of the end for these social networking brands? Or can they reinvent their original purpose and continue to serve all classes, all ages, all needs. Few brands have ever managed such universal appeal. It will be fascinating to see how the social networking brands’ manoeuvre through such choppy waters.