Social Quitting

A mass exodus is underway from Twitter and Facebook. After decades of eye-popping growth, these social media sites are contracting at an alarming rate.

In some ways, this shouldn’t surprise us. All the social networks that preceded the current generation experienced this pattern: SixDegrees, Friendster, MySpace, and Bebo all exploded onto the scene. One day, they were sparsely populated fringe services, the next day, every­one you knew was using them and you had to sign up to stay in touch. Then, just as quickly, they imploded, turning into ghost towns, then punchlines, then forgotten ruins.

This didn’t happen to Facebook and Twitter. Both attained a scale and durability that exceeded the networks that preceded them. For many people, it seemed like the operators of these services had cracked the nut of making eternal social media. Maybe it was their access to the capital markets, which let them hire better engineering teams? Maybe it was the singular genius of their founders and leaders? Maybe it was luck?

Today, it’s getting harder to believe that these networks will last forever. In the blink of an eye, they’ve gone from unassailable eternal mountains to shifting sands that might blow away at any time. Users are scrambling to download their data and tell their friends where they can be found if (when?) the service disappears.

How did these systems go from permanent to ephemeral? How did it happen so quickly?

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