Old People are Fickle, Flighty Social Network Users

ComScore's year-end report on the state of the Internet sparked a lot of discussion recently about the rise and fall of social networks, specifically with regard to the changing balance of different age cohorts. The most remarked-on finding was that the proportion of active Facebook users under the age of 24 dipped to an all-time low in the fourth quarter of 2009 (27%), while the proportion on MySpace increased substantially (to 44.3%) -- check out the graph.

myspace v facebook

Something about the latter number jogged my memory, and I soon discovered the origin of this déjà vu: it is the exact same proportion of MySpace users who were under the age of 24 in the fourth quarter of 2005, lo those many years ago.

What happened between 2005 and 2009 was, basically, an influx of older people (that would be us) who then apparently grew bored of the site or at least stopped using it as much. Thus while the metrics might seem to suggest some gyration in the number of younger users, I believe that the under-24 set has always been the "hard-core" of MySpace users, who patiently waited out the influx (and subsequent out-flux) of older adults who heard how cool MySpace was and then moved on... to Facebook, apparently.

But comparing the pattern for the rise and fall of the older demo in MySpace with the developments so far in Facebook, one wonders whether the big increases of older users on Facebook will display any staying power, or if it is just going to be another fad, like the older invasion of MySpace. For that not to be the case -- meaning, for Facebook's gains in the older demos to be lasting -- Facebook would have to deliver something demonstrably different and better from MySpace. Does it? If so, what?

17 comments about "Old People are Fickle, Flighty Social Network Users".
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  1. Haralee Weintraub from, February 15, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    Facebook offers an easy way to quickly catch up with friends and find old friends with pictures as well as a connection with family.

  2. Ruth Barrett from, February 15, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.

    Flighty and fickle I am, but I am not when it comes to Facebook, for to undo then redo would take far too much work and besides my friends and colleagues are in it with me. No killer app is likely to move me away, but two things might: (1) selling, trading, giving my history and ID to an individual, company, or government and/or unleashing advertisers to generate revenue. I remind myself of the move large, non media Corporations made to own the media lock, stock, and barrel. Now every network newscast is entertainment surrounded by pharmaceutical ads. Need I go on?

  3. Elizabeth Rhys from KTS, February 15, 2010 at 1:22 p.m.

    Wow, that's some headline. I'm an old person who used MySpace for a while, then stopped because it seemed a little trashy, plus there was too much risk of getting a virus.

    I joined facebook and much prefer it to MySpace and Twitter because it's a place where you can communicate with other people, post pictures, join groups, and play games. There's a lot to do. And also I think the phrase is "bored with", not "bored of." I know I'm a grammar nazi, but there it is.

  4. Jane Bowlin-burt from Port-A-Cool, LLC, February 15, 2010 at 2:07 p.m.

    I can tell you exactly what happened. Everyone's mother got on Facebook, friended their children, then gave them the third degree about drunken party pics on their wall and subtle comments about what went on at that party on Friday night. I personally don't like MySpace because the interface is messy and hard to read, just like my child's current Facebook profile ever since they defriended me. :-)

  5. Les Blatt from Freelance New Media Person, February 15, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.

    Fickle? Not really. Most of us checked out MySpace, found little to entertain, inform or excite us there, and moved on to Facebook. Facebook has turned out to be a more social network, allowing us to reconnect with old friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and to share among ourselves the things that interest us, from web pages to photos and videos. While Facebook does keep trying to change (or at least update its layout!), it still remains, at heart, the best social network out there for us.

  6. Eric Young from Law Offices/Virtual Law, February 15, 2010 at 2:37 p.m.

    I found the title of this article - its use of the phrase "old people" and off-putting terms such as "fickle" and "flighty" - to be offensive. You may have caught my attention, but you lost the ability to persuade or interest me before I even started reading the article.

  7. Jo Guerra from Your Marketing Gal, February 15, 2010 at 2:48 p.m.

    Old? So who is old, Erik. Hope you weren't talking about me. But anyway, I did have to chuckle.

  8. John Capone from Whalebone, February 15, 2010 at 5:36 p.m.

    @Eric Young: I believe the Erik was being ironic in referring to those over 24 as the "old people" cohort.

  9. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., February 15, 2010 at 6:15 p.m.

    Yeah, I remember before there was Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, wait - I remember before there was internet, wait! I remember before there was VHS, AAAARGH! I remember before there was color TV! (Sound of me flushing myself down garbage disposal) BUT, just perhaps that gives me some sort of insight into the difference between enduring trends and digital fads. Social networking is just the time-suck-du-jour, people. Once you get out of the dreaded agency-speak environment that is New York, things clear up a bit. Think I'm just a crazy old coot? (Well, you're partially correct here) but check this out for backup - could it be that the bloom is off the rose for our favorite (not) blue bird of digital happiness? Read 'em and chirp:

  10. Joseph Coughlin from MIT AgeLab, February 15, 2010 at 7:13 p.m.

    Good analysis of what the data might be saying. Older adults tend to want more. Having experienced so much, they are not impressed nor engaged with novelty as younger consumers -- where everything is new. Quite often younger consumers are willing to try something "new" because their assessed value of time and utility are lower than experienced users. Facebook will have to facilitate the desire for 50+ to share, connect with new people and use technology to achieve a given end, e.g., connecting with causes, Green, Pink, etc. Younger users are currently using Facebook and other social media as a celebration of the self connecting with people they know rather than extending their circle of people and interests. Facebook has the 50+ consumer's attention - now what?

  11. Bruce Christensen from PartyWeDo, February 15, 2010 at 7:49 p.m.

    Family generational connections will keep the "older" crowd in Facebook. There is a growing number of baby boomers who wish to remain connected to their dispersed children.

    Older demographics want to watch grandchildren grow and provide some level of support for those family and friends who have moved away.

    There are applications that allow the families to support and share everything from birthday cards to birthday parties on the facebook platform.

    Once users realize that they can conveniently purchase and send real gifts for their loved ones through facebook, the network will really have something special.

  12. Gregory Marchione from Reed Business Information, February 15, 2010 at 8:07 p.m.

    I'm so tired of hearing how hip the younger crowd is. Just because us older folks don't have adult attention deficit disorder and can actually focus on one thing at a time does not mean we're not with it. Scientific studies have shown multi-tasking is a crap excuse for not doing any one thing good. My space is a mess. Everybody is trying to show how different they are by making pages that are annoying to visit at best. Facebook is a great site. I just wish they didn't change it every month, but I feel that's an attempt to please the younger crowd that gets bored with everything so quickly.

  13. Mike Handy from Nostrum Inc, February 15, 2010 at 8:31 p.m.

    Facebook will finish as the older network... MySpace didnt disapear it just got younger (its the teenage network).... WE are going to fragment ourselves by age with younger people flocking towards more technical open networks. Older folks will continue to want the safety that Facebook provides paired with the simple user interface.

  14. Susan Tschantz from Renaissance Gallery, February 15, 2010 at 9:33 p.m.

    I have to admit I am one of the older people who deserted myspace and moved to facebook to keep in contact with family and reconnect with friends.

    As a result, I have my business on facebook not myspace.

  15. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., February 17, 2010 at 12:16 a.m.

    We're kind of overlooking the data and the astonishing reports. Let's not make presumptions about use & usability - especially among demographics we are all so out of touch from. (I say that with sincere respect for everyone past their twenties.)

    I have a hypothesis. The share structure for facebook is more of a passive network. IE, I don't retain or consume a silo of media on FB, I just comment, share, and re-post. I aggregate real time in FB, I don't necessarily archive or store. I wonder if Myspace's recent acquisition of IMeem is directly responsible for the spike in the younger demo's use of the dying platform.

    Important note: historically, Myspace has been known to house reems of digital content for amateur video sites streaming hit tv shows or anime episodes. This phenomena could also attribute to the sudden up-spike.

    Would love to know how Comscore measures activity in both platforms.

  16. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., February 17, 2010 at 12:21 a.m.

    Re-reading some of these comments, I can't stress enough how our assumptions about the older and younger demographic may be COMPLETELY off from the truth. The younger demographic still represents a clear majority in both platforms.

    If you're in the older demographic and you THINK that the younger demographic enjoys using Myspace because of the openness and lack of perceived utility, then count how many FB applications are catered to an older generation?

    This comment I just had to push back on... "WE are going to fragment ourselves by age with younger people flocking towards more technical open networks."

    Facebook is the more technical network by far.... I don't understand this comment.

  17. Bonnie marie Bates from Weddings in Italy by My Weddings and More, February 17, 2010 at 4:44 a.m.

    You mean, 'Old People are Real, Social Network Users are Lonely'. I sometimes wonder how young people can spend so much time in front of a computer screen. What happened to playing outside, going to a friend's, cruising down the boulevard in somebody's car, hanging out at Denny's together? Are we moving away from active, human contact towards sedentary and imaginary relationships?
    Signed: One happy Baby Boomer!

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