We know that social networks like Facebook to Google+ to Foursquare love to boast their number of citizens (users). It sounds great and in Facebook's case, it helps to let the financial community know that they've got about 700 million users as they go IPO. There are also reports that Google+ is like a ghost town and only Googlers are the ones still using it after the initial interests from the media and the curious. Then there is location-based social networks like Foursquare. Personally, I can say that the number active users among my friends list has dropped by 2/3. So, what exactly is going on here?
And while Facebook claims to have hundreds of millions of daily users, not quite near the 700 million users that they have, many of them are what I called "lurkers". They're people who sign up for social networks or other services but rarely participate in general or as the network as it is mean to be.
After all, according to Wikipedia on lurkers, lurkers account for 90% of online groups. This data was collected in 2000. With some benefit of the doubt, maybe today's social networks have the ability to encourage more participation but it is doubtful there is more than a marginal improvement from 2000.
Now, it would appear that my numbers, say from Foursquare, is much better than the average Joe social network users. I have to come clean and note that I have an advantage over most other users. Looking through my list of friends, more than 50% of my friends on Foursquare work in the tech field - many for companies with social components like entertainment, gaming, and music or video.
For Facebook, one third of my friends on Facebook work in the tech or cloud industry and they account for a vast majority of status updates. And on Google+, I don't have an estimate but Google+ seems to be turning into Twitter without the 140 character limits. Going through the circles, the cirle with just my personal friends last updated on January 31. As for my other circles, those with reasons to share links, pics like art, or writings, they are constantly being updated. For about three weeks, I did not log into my Google+ account due to information overload. Hundreds of links streaming by, there is only so much I can absorb.
It's likely most users have similar experiences online. I do my share of updates, a lot through Twitter, but here isn't a whole lot for me to share either. I have vowed to take more pics and share them but that is as far as I am willing to go.
I am afraid that even as the momentum of social networks allow for them to increase the number of users, participation among users is likely to drop or 9 out of 10 new users will turn out to be lurkers. Maybe that might be fine for selling ads, it is doubtful that lurkers are clicking through the ads.
There is time for social networks to find a way to retain eyeballs. We are still the infancy state of social network growth but time is running out. Violating privacy is not going to help. Is through new innovative designs, features, and incentives that will keep us coming back.
I continue to use Foursquare to keep track of cool places I go and only regularly check in at Souplantations of the discounts. But as soon as I find another way to track myself without having to share it with Foursquare, I doubt I'll use it much. Personally, I am not much of a lurker.