SOCIAL NETWORKS

Why Facebook is cool no more

Spain's youngsters prefer to spend their time on sites such as Twitter, Tuenti and Instagram

Facebook is losing ground in Spain to other platforms.
Facebook is losing ground in Spain to other platforms. Evan Vucci / AP

"Tuenti for uploading photos and Twitter for my thoughts," says Ainhoa López, a high-school freshman from Madrid. "Before, I communicated with my friends on Facebook, but it has become difficult."

Fourteen-year-old Omar Mamalbashi, a student from the Alameda de Osuna neighborhood of the capital, agrees. Both have Facebook accounts, but they hardly ever use them.

Fellow student Javier Mora, aged 12, thinks Facebook is useful for staying in touch with family, but shows no interest in updating his profile. All three agree that their cellphones are their most prized possessions and their gateways to the social networks.

Diego Álvarez, a first-year psychology student, is active on Facebook, but complains about all the notifications. "Especially those for games such as Candy Crush," he says.

They feel they’re mixing with people with whom they have nothing in common”

The days when parents asked their kids to hang up the phone so as not to block up the line are over. Now the social networks are the links youngsters use to communicate with their friends. The latest report from the Pew Research Center, which surveyed American youngsters aged between 12 and 17 years old, reflects their lack of interest in Facebook and preference for Twitter. And despite the distance and the different culture, the same trend seems to be repeated in Spain.

Facebook is no longer cool, in the opinion of Mauro F. Fuentes, director of social media at the Spanish headquarters of advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. "It is everybody; they feel they are mixing with people with whom they have nothing in common," he says.

Francesc Grau, a digital communication consultant and author of the book Twitter en una semana (or, Twitter in a week) thinks the sprawl does nothing to help Facebook. "Some common complaints are the frequent changes, the presence of parents, as well as the strange presentation of updates," he says.

Marta R. Montané, a 14-year-old from Barcelona, does not have a cellphone, but uses both Facebook and Twitter intensively. "They might ruin my studies, but they also allow me to ask questions when I have doubts, to do group work and go overboard on homework."

Samuel Soto, a 17-year-old blogger from Gijón, values Facebook's ability to spread information but finds the controls confusing, especially the ones letting you adapt who can access your content.

Fourteen-year-old María Nogal has taken refuge in Spanish social network Tuenti, which remains the most popular option among the youngest users. Since it began in 2006, the site has grown to 15 million users, nine million of whom connect at least once a month. Six million do so via their cellphones. Twenty-two percent are aged between 14 and 17 and only 12 percent are older than 35.

Sources put their money on Instagram as a key service in the future

Ainhoa López thinks Twitter lacks a chat system; something more sophisticated than the boring direct messages. This is another of Tuenti's strong points: its simplicity. When the firm detected it was more than a fad, it launched a messaging application and linked it to its cellphone service.

Facebook brags about its figures, but does not give specifics about age groups. It has 18 million active users per month in Spain and over 1.1 billion across the world. The company's response to the Pew Research study is vague. "We continue to have really high penetration rates among \[the under 25s\], both in the US and globally," it says. "And the younger users remain among the most active and engaged that we have on Facebook. And then in addition, younger users are extremely active users of Instagram," which the company bought last year.

Twitter is the youngsters' favorite place to keep themselves informed. Iñigo Rodríguez feels Facebook is too open. By accessing Twitter on a cellphone you can read up on the latest news and send direct messages to friends. Mario Pérez, a student at the María Moliner high school in the Madrid suburb of Coslada, likes using Twitter to talk about her day-to-day life with touches of humor. "As much as young people have to stay aware of current affairs, after the whole day studying, you don't fancy spending the evening reading bad news," she says.

The head of the Fox empire, Rupert Murdoch, who bought and then sold MySpace at a knockdown price, is delighted at the Facebook slowdown. "Look out Facebook!" he wrote on Twitter. "Hours spent participating per member dropping seriously. First really bad sign as seen by crappy MySpace years ago." After massive layoffs, the site that was the world's first social network is still looking to resurrect itself.

"Facebook has the advantage over MySpace of not being specialized," says José Luis Orihuela, a lecturer in the communication department at Navarre University and author of the blog eCuaderno. "It is a generalist social network that has become the standard and, precisely because of that, is starting to show signs of exhaustion among the most innovative social groups. You have to remember that, at the beginning, it was a social network for college students."

Sources are putting their money on photo-sharing-based social network Instagram as a key service in the future, but 12-year-old Javier Mora has ditched his account after discovering that his new Android phone can retouch his photos after he takes them without him having to use the application.

Soon niche services centered on specific interests will emerge. In the end they will follow the same model as television"

Orihuela points to two challenges in Facebook's future: "Don't spoil the user experience of the platforms they acquire, as in the case of Instagram. On the other hand, it is evident that Facebook has to continue improving how it manages data privacy."

Grau thinks we are now in the first era of social networks. "Soon niche services centered on specific interests will emerge. In the end they will follow the same model as television: moving from general to themed channels. In any case, Facebook has digital fuel in the form of data."

María Nogal, from Segovia, obtained her Facebook, Twitter and Tuenti accounts last year as a reward for her good marks. She is about to celebrate her first anniversary on the social networks and has left Twitter after feeling harassed by a classmate. Bullying is another reason for leaving, according to a study of Spanish youngsters aged between 14 and 17 carried out by consumer rights organization Facua. Fifteen percent admitted to having been bullied at some point.

Nogal feels that the people on Facebook are quite a bit older than her. "I don't use it much in case I annoy my family," she says. "I'm interested in following important and famous people."

Today, at least, it seems Spain's youngsters are born on Tuenti, grow up on Twitter and settle down on Facebook.