Correction to This Article
This article about whether Facebook's popularity will ultimately be its downfall misidentified a company spokesman who said that the social-networking Web site does not release its retention data. He is Larry Yu, not Victor Lu.

Facebook hits 300 million users. What's next for social networking?

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By Monica Hesse
Monday, October 19, 2009

Five years from now, will Internet historians signpost 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 flick, called "The Social Network," about Facebook's birth. Jesse Eisenberg will play founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Justin Timberlake is cast as Sean Parker, the first company president.

But will the real star be . . . nostalgia? Will Facebook seem passe, like watching a movie about the invention of VHS? A dramatization of the site could turn it into a time capsule, with fossilized reenactments of the first friend poke.

If "The Social Network" isn't a harbinger of doom, then what is? Last month, the site gained its 300 millionth user and turned a profit for the first time in its six-year history. Can we just Facebook forever, friend requesting until we are officially connected to everyone? (What would that last friend acceptance look like? Osama bin Laden added you as a friend on Facebook. "Oh, all right.")

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. "What's new on the net after Facebook?" writes a listless user going by TabithaFlyin on Help.com. "I'm bored."

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? Someone cooler and more tech-savvy than you had joined and they wanted you to join, too. It's not skeezy, they promised. Remembering this is really about remembering 2003, because that's when buzz about the site peaked, when everyone was Friendstering, Dogstering, Catstering, making verbs out of Web sites.

And then . . .

Then everyone trekked to MySpace -- the (same) invitation from the (same) cool person, the indie bands, the customizable backgrounds. That was 2005-06, although some may be there still.

And then . . .


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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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