Most journalists love a good trend story, especially if it seems to conform to their own preferences and prejudices. The semi-ironic journalistic rule of thumb that "three things makes a trend" reflects journalists' awareness of this problem, but also their willingness to adopt a simplistic stance when it seems to confirm their beliefs.
On the level of meta-trends, I won't go so far as to say that there's a trend of journalists writing trend pieces about a "backlash" against social media -- but there does seem to be some buzz building around the notion that many people who were initially swept up by the social networking phenomenon are now "over it" and logging off, for good.
I will admit to having my own concerns and doubts about social media, and I also understand the contrarian appeal of standing athwart the path of history crying "stop!" or "go get some fresh air!" -- but as for the notion that people are somehow over-saturated and swinging back to lives of pre-Friendster social simplicity, I have to call "baloney." It just doesn't stand up to an examination of the facts.
First of all, the trend stories about social media backlash are usually based on anecdotal evidence -- and even this doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Several articles recently noted that celebrities like Miley Cyrus have canceled their Twitter accounts, but failed to point out that celebrities are the people least in need of Twitter or online social networks in general; the world is Miley's Twitter account, and it doesn't limit her to 140 characters (as well as paying her a lot more). Twitter isn't really an optimal tool for people who are already famous, unless they happen to be extra-narcissistic; on the other hand it's ideal for people who think they should be famous, and have some kind of highly-engaging daily proof to back this belief up.
Getting down to brass tacks -- which those trend stories never seem to do -- the general direction of social networks in terms of size, volume of activity, and time spent is unquestionably pointing upwards. From a mere six million in January 2009, Twitter's number of unique visitors rose to 73.5 million in January 2010, according to ComScore, while the number of Tweets per month has steadily increased from about 80 million to more than 1.2 billion over the same period. Crunch the numbers and that's an increase from 13.3 Tweets per person to 16.7 Tweets per person, suggesting increased scale has been accompanied by intensified activity.
As mentioned in a previous episode of the Social Graf, there has in fact been a notable decrease in the number of unique visitors per month at MySpace over the last six months or so, but the data suggests this is mostly a demographic phenomenon having to do with the preferences of different age cohorts when it comes to their social network use. Specifically, MySpace seems to have drawn a flood of adults over the age of 24, but then rapidly lost its novelty and interest, resulting in a 24+ exodus to other social sites like Facebook (reader reactions seemed to confirm this pattern -- here I go using anecdotal evidence myself!). MySpace returned to its original user profile -- to their relief, perhaps -- while Facebook so far seems to be doing a better job holding the interest of the 24+ set.
Putting it all together, combined page views for the two leading social networks increased from 58 billion in December 2008 to 69 billion in December 2009. Meanwhile, presuming no overlap total unique visitors increased 29% from 131 million to 169 million; presuming 100% overlap, the number of unique visitors increased 47% from 76 million to 112 million; presuming 50% of the larger network's user base was also present in the smaller network at both measurements, the total increased 22% from 93 million to 113 million.
However you want to slice it, social networks are still growing.