I notice that Facebook has dropped to third in Alexa this week, but none of the tech press has covered it.
I know the usual arguments: Alexa isn’t the best way of measuring audience stats; everyone (including us) has dropped because of the way Firefox has changed its status bar, thereby omitting a lot of users from its sample; Facebook itself will have recorded no real drop in user numbers (though we also know a lot of these so-called active users are bots and spammers, as we see heaps each day); and that Alexa doesn’t capture mobile data, where people are spending far more time these days.
It does seem rather hypocritical, however, given that the same tech press applauded and wrote heaps of articles when Facebook overtook Google in Alexa. Some hailed it as the rise and rise of Facebook. There were tones of how unassailable it had become.
However, its number-one position was remarkably fleeting and it quickly dropped back to second, where it has been for years, apart from that one blip.
Facebook’s position has been usurped by Google’s YouTube. I make no predictions on whether this is fleeting or not, but it doesn’t look good for Facebook. I just don’t see any YouTube hate out there. If you dislike reading the comments from the world’s keyboard warriors sitting in their underwear at home, a few cookie settings will render them invisible. YouTube becomes a remarkably tolerable site.
Earlier this month, a report found by my friend William Shepherd showed that personal sharing on Facebook had dipped by 21 per cent.
I have said for years that ‘Facebook is the new Digg,’ a place where news is shared, not personal updates, though it appears it has taken a while for the company to realize this. Looking at some of the bugs on the site over the years, I’m not surprised Facebook missed it: for months it acted as though its entire user base was in California, with the website stuck at the end of each month till it got to the 1st in its home state. Now it is kicking users off over fake malware accusations when it’s more likely, and this is my guess based on how the site has behaved over the years, that its databases are dying. Liking, sharing and commenting fail from time to time.
Given this, and its many other problems—including the breach of policies outlined by some of the groups it participates in, impacting on user privacy—no wonder it’s experiencing this drop.
I see personal updates again that I saw a day before, because relatively few of my 2,300 friends write them any more. The trend has shifted, and a lot of users must have noticed what I did many years ago.
At Medinge Group we have long advocated transparency in brands, and Facebook’s actions run counter to a lot of what we have proposed.
We believe that sooner or later, people wise up—something we said about Enron at one of the first meetings I attended in 2002.
In fact, the way Facebook behaves tends to be combative, and for a 21st-century firm, its attitudes toward its user base is very 20th-century, a “them and us” model. It’s not alone in this: I’ve levelled similar accusations against Google and I stand by them. Since my own battle with them over malware, and a more recent one over intellectual property (where I was talking to a Facebook employee who eventually gave up when things got into the “too hard” basket), I’ve found dozens of other users via Twitter who have been kicked off the service, yet are running clean, malware-free machines. The blog post I wrote on the subject has been the most-read of the pieces I have authored in 2016, and certainly the most commented, as others face the same issue.
While both giants will claim that they could not possibly have the sort of one-to-one relationship with their user bases in the same way as a small business can, it’s clear to me that big issues aren’t being flagged and dealt with at Facebook. When I read the link Bill sent me, my first reaction was, ‘Why did it take so long for someone there to realize this?’
Let’s not even get started on the way both companies treat paying their fair share of tax.
It’s not about the number of people experiencing any given issue, it’s about the severity of the issue that a small number of people experience. By the time a larger vocal minority experiences it, the damage has gone a lot further.
Facebook does listen to some of these cases: I remember when it limited bot reports to 40–50 a day, at a time when it was not uncommon to find hundreds a day on the site. I complained, and after a few months, Facebook did indeed remove this limit.
But I regard that as an exception.
Its forced downloads of so-called malware scans that even its supplier refuses to answer for (could they have nefarious purposes?), and now the latest last week—ensuring that all message notifications in a mobile browser link to its Messenger app, resulting in a 404 for anyone who does not have it installed—are rendering the website less and less useful. In my case, I just use it less. We’re not going to download privacy-invading apps on our phone—we’re busy enough. We want to manage our time and if that means we only get to Facebook messages when we are at our desks, then so be it. Some might abandon it altogether.
Its other move is ceasing the forwarding from www.facebook.com to m.facebook.com on mobile devices, so if you had the former bookmarked, you’re not going to see anything any more. Some browsers (like Dolphin) came with the former bookmarked. Result: a few more legit users, who might not know the difference, gone.
If there’s no trust, then regardless of the money you have, you’re not a top brand, nor one that people really wish to associate with.
Facebook, of course, knows some of this, which is why it has bought so many other firms where there’s still personal sharing, such as Instagram and Whatsapp.
It knows if there’s another site that comes along that gets public support, as it did when it first started, people will abandon Facebook en masse.
Curiously, even this past week alone, it seems intent to hurry them along. There must be some sort of corporate goal to see if it can reach fourth, just like Flight of the Conchords.
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