* More than 100 million Facebook members in United States
* Social network may be nearing "technological lock-in"
(Repeats with no change to text)
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 College senior Alyssa
Ravasio gave up MySpace on the day she got a Facebook account
and never looked back. She has already lost interest in
Twitter. But how does Facebook know it can keep her loyalty?
The brief history of the Internet is littered with the
ghosts of Websites that people have abandoned in their
relentless pursuit of something newer, faster, better and
Tech-savvy Ravasio, a 21-year-old UCLA student designing
her undergraduate degree around the Internet's impact on
society and communication, is irked by changes privately owned
Facebook has made.
But for now, she says, Facebook is keeping her allegiance
because of a concept called "technological lock-in." In other
words, the site has become an essential part of her life.
"I think Facebook is the most valuable Internet commodity
in existence, more so than Google, because they are positioning
themselves to be our online identity via Facebook connect,"
"It's your real name, it's your real friends, and assuming
they manage to navigate the privacy quagmire, they're poised to
become your universal login," she said. "I would almost argue
that Facebook is the new mobile phone. It's the new thing you
need to keep in touch, almost a requirement of modern social
THE QWERTY KEYBOARD
Technological lock-in is the idea that the more a society
adopts a certain technology, the more unlikely users are to
switch. Its the reason why the QWERTY keyboard layout, devised
for typewriters in the 1870s, is still the standard despite the
development of several more logical configurations.
And Facebook, which has more than 100 million users in the
United States and 350 million worldwide, appears to have nearly
achieved technological lock-in, according to web marketing
research company Comscore.com.
In December, for example, Facebook recorded nearly 112
million unique visitors in the United States, compared to 57
million for MySpace and 20 million for Twitter, according to
Users also spent much longer on Facebook, averaging 246.9
minutes in December, compared to 112.7 minutes on MySpace and
24.3 minutes on Twitter.
"It's something that feeds on itself," Comscore director
Andrew Lipsman said. "The more people who come into the
network, the more connected they become to each other and there
actually becomes a greater cost to leaving the network."
"At some point it becomes a critical mass," he said. "It
becomes so strong that its difficult to unlock and I think
Facebook has reached that point."
Skeptics might say that the same argument could have been
made for MySpace just a few years ago, when it reigned supreme
among social networking sites to the extent that few American
teens would be caught dead without an account.
'THEIR GAME TO LOSE'
But those who study web trends say that MySpace, while
wildly popular, never quite reached the worldwide domination of
Facebook, which then-Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg started in
his dorm room in 2004.
Facebook initially limited membership to Harvard, then
universities, a move that heightened the draw for teens. And
once Facebook opened registration to anyone in 2006, it was
flooded with members between the ages of 25 to 45.
Tim Groeling, a professor of communication studies at UCLA,
said that because it was possible to sign up for Facebook
without dumping MySpace, many young people had accounts on both
sites until the center of gravity slowly shifted to Facebook.
"MySpace wasn't focused as much on the social networking
aspect, which they seem to enjoy. It wasn't quite the
tight-knit social machine that Facebook seems to be," he said.
"Facebook has a certain amount of lock-in that's going to
be hard for people to get past," Groeling said. "It's possible
it could happen, but it has to overcome a high threshold of
user cost. It's their game to lose at this point."
Ravasio says that, technological lock-in aside, Facebook
could potentially lose her if it keeps annoying her, as it did
when it abruptly changed a default privacy setting so that
members' pictures were public.
"All these (Internet) companies saying they'll figure out
how to monetize later seem to be forgetting that 'monetizing'
has historically always meant a degradation of user experience
quality," she said.