"Facebook feels dead. Did Facebook Kill Itself?"

(Austin American Statesman) Five years from now, will Internet historians mark the Facebook movie, due out in 2010, as the beginning of the site's end?

"West Wing" writer Aaron Sorkin is writing and producing the film, titled "The Social Network." Jesse Eisenberg will play founder Mark Zuckerberg; Justin Timberlake is cast as Sean Parker, Facebook's first president.

But will the real star be nostalgia? Will Facebook seem passé, like watching a movie about the invention of VHS?

Last month, the site gained its 300 millionth user and turned a profit for the first time in its six-year history. One year into Facebook's unchallenged social networking domination — three years ago this month from its availability to the general public — and suddenly people are beginning to speculate about its demise.

Facebook feels "dead," a columnist for The New York Times observes, saying that several of her friends have gone inactive. "Did Facebook Kill Itself?" asks the headline of a recent U.S. News & World Report article.

All social-networking sites eventually die off, mutate or find a second life elsewhere, as evidenced by the ones that have come before. But why are we so eager to move on?

Remember Friendster?

Remember the mysterious invitations that appeared in your inbox, oh, about 2003? Someone cooler and more tech-savvy than you had joined, and they wanted you to join, too.

Then everyone trekked to MySpace: the (same) invitation from a cool person, the indie bands, the customizable backgrounds. That was 2005-06, though many are there still.

Then Facebook, especially for the college crowd. Facebook groups, Facebook gifts, Facebook dilemmas over how to describe your romantic relationships and religious beliefs.

Along the way, you might have joined other sites. But those were dalliances that lacked staying power. Now it's mostly Facebook, the fourth most popular Web site in the world, according to market research firm ComScore.

The irony is that while we've been searching for the next big thing, Facebook has never grown faster, tripling in size in the past year.

Despite those numbers, there's the ennui. "After Facebook and Twitter what's next on the horizon?" asked a user on Twitter.

For users new to a social network, the site becomes an addiction. There are old teachers to be found, old tormenters to reject, groups to join and leave. As each friend is added, there are profiles to stalk and dissect.

But eventually, a balance is reached. Users have found everyone they're going to find. Visits to the site are less about searching and more about maintenance. Although friend-collecting used to be the de rigueur Facebook activity, the fashionable thing now is the friend purge.

Elliott Hoffman, a software engineer in Missouri, describes how he recently went from 300 friends to 70.

"When I was in college and Facebook had just come out, if you met someone at a party you would friend them," he said. But as the site approached saturation, "I realized it was just too much noise."

"There are two conflicting processes," said Jason Kaufman, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society who studies social-networking sites. "On the one hand, the more people who join Facebook, the more useful it is."

On the other, its very ubiquity makes some users uneasy.

"There's a countervailing tendency toward the fringe — to want to do things that are not in the mainstream," Kaufman said. "Americans don't want to follow the herd, but they want the convenience of being in the herd."

The fact that the fastest-growing Facebook demographic is users over 55 doesn't help the coolness factor.

"By definition, it's like bar-hopping," said Kurt Cagle, an editor for O'Reilly Media, which publishes technology books. "You want to go to ones before they're popular. You don't want to go to ones that are too crowded."

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