The post 2000 dot-com boom saw a shift from static websites providing information and articles to interactive online social networks. In July 2003, MySpace started a revolution and less than a year later both and Facebook, at that time called and available only to a select few university students, were launched.

Locally, both Hi5 and Facebook gained massive popularity. However, since 2010, it seems that Facebook is the undisputed leader in the popularity stakes. According to Internet World Stats, more than 220,000 Maltese users had a Facebook account in 2013. Mark Zuckerberg’s creation seems to be the cool place to be. Or is it?

A study published earlier this year by Princeton University, US, entitled Epidemiological Modelling of Online Social Network Dynamics, uses statistical models to compare adoption and abandonment of social platforms. The study’s main conclusion is that all online networks are bound to face their demise, just like Hi5 and MySpace, which are practically dead space nowadays. This study argues that abandonment of a particular platform follows the same pattern of an infectious disease: contact between people who use Facebook may lead to their peers to join and people who abandon Facebook or start using an alternative platform may pressure their friends to follow suit.

According to this study, Facebook is showing the first signs of desertion and if the mathematical model used in this study is correct, we might expect Facebook’s demise in the next few years. Facebook responded to this study by claiming that the user count has increased substantially in the past months. However the company failed to produce any data showing that such users are interacting and spending more time on the platform itself. This partial statement is being interpreted by many as an unacknowledged confirmation of the validity of Princeton University’s study.

Privacy concerns, online identity theft, exposure to advertising and an increase in downtime are becoming ever-increasing issues and may be the cause as to why many are starting to use other social media networks. Nevertheless no other online network is yet dominant and anyone choosing to leave Facebook will find that, while there are many alternatives, their following is still not significant, especially in smaller countries like Malta.

Privacy concerns, online identity theft, exposure to advertising and an increase in downtime are becoming ever-increasing issues

Various social networks are offering different services to cater for various needs. Many youngsters, for instance, are opting to migrate to Snapchat. Using this platform, users can send photos, add text and send messages to their friends just like Facebook. The main difference is that photos and messages are deleted after a time limit, normally set between one to 10 minutes. This has an added advantage as it leaves no trail of a user’s photos and activities. Contrary to Facebook, photos and messages are also deleted from the company’s own servers and Snapchat guarantees complete privacy without anyone being able to snoop around someone’s profile.

It seems that this particular online service is gaining traction among Maltese youngsters who are leaving Facebook in droves. Moreover, parents frequently ‘friend’ their children in order to monitor their online activities – to escape their parents’ supervision, youngsters are deleting their Facebook account or not using it at all. is a new social network launched earlier this year and has been dubbed as the Facebook killer. Its founder, Paul Budnitz, said that he intends to disrupt the social media scene. It seems that to a certain extent he is succeeding, thanks to some clever viral marketing techniques. First of all, access to the service is via invitation only for now, meaning that the same scarcity factor is making this service more desirable in the eye of the trendsetters. Moreover, the display screen uses a predominantly black and white design adds to the cool factor of this platform.

The Ello manifesto, which Budnitz wrote, states that: “Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make and every link you follow is tracked and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads.” This is why the creator of this service is vowing to never show any form of advertising to Ello users and instead is going to use a financial model based on the in-app purchases we all have become accustomed to.

When it launches officially in early 2015, Ello will allow its users the opportunity to customise how their page looks for $1. Moreover, users can also change various settings for another dollar instead of relying on income from advertising to fund this project. Whether user purchases will be enough to make the platform profitable is hard to say but venture capitalists seem excited about this particular service and have already invested half a ­million dollars.

The founders of Ello have another surprise in store: in May 2015 they are planning a huge online viral marketing campaign which should peak on May 31, coinciding perfectly with what has become known as Quit Facebook Day. It is calculated that in the US, as much as 33,000 users follow this campaign and close their accounts each year, although most of them don’t stop interacting online – this means that these users might start migrating to Ello, possibly taking with them their friends as well.

Even Twitter and Linkedin, although serving a different purpose, are facing growing competition from similar services such as About.Me, which offers a similar service without any irritating advertising or promotional material. Instead, it uses a freemium model to finance its operation: you can use its services free of charge but can upgrade to a more robust platform for a small yearly fee. This service is not yet well known in Malta but it is gaining thrust and increasing presence as it allows users to link with their Twitter and Linkedin accounts as well as offering an app which aims to act as an electronic business card. This could potentially overtake Linkedin in the business reference market.

Ian Vella is a search engine optimisation specialist.

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