Why a small minority of Americans don’t use Facebook

The New York Times has a piece looking at why some Americans don’t use Facebook:

As Facebook prepares for a much-anticipated public offering, the company is eager to show off its momentum by building on its huge membership: more than 800 million active users around the world, Facebook says, and roughly 200 million in the United States, or two-thirds of the population…

Many of the holdouts mention concerns about privacy. Those who study social networking say this issue boils down to trust. Amanda Lenhart, who directs research on teenagers, children and families at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said that people who use Facebook tend to have “a general sense of trust in others and trust in institutions.” She added: “Some people make the decision not to use it because they are afraid of what might happen.”…

Facebook executives say they don’t expect everyone in the country to sign up. Instead they are working on ways to keep current users on the site longer, which gives the company more chances to show them ads. And the company’s biggest growth is now in places like Asia and Latin America, where there might actually be people who have not yet heard of Facebook…

And whether there is haranguing involved or not, the rebels say their no-Facebook status tends to be a hot topic of conversation — much as a decision not to own a television might have been in an earlier media era…

Some quick thoughts:

1. This is a relatively small percentage of Americans who don’t use Facebook. If 200 million Americans are on Facebook, that is the vast majority of people 13 years old and above. Roughly 15-20% of Americans are not eligible for Facebook (older 2000 figures here). The comparison made in the article is to the percent of people without cell phones which is roughly 16%.

1a. Because of its general ubiquity, perhaps it would be more interesting then to differentiate between people who it frequently (multiple times a day?) versus those who check infrequently (say once a week or less).

1b. Is this the activity Americans most share in common perhaps beside watching TV?

2. Privacy issues don’t seem to bother most Facebook users. Even though there may be little revolts when Facebook changes its privacy policy or makes a mistake, this isn’t driving people away in large numbers. And, as I’ve said before, if you want to remain private you should probably stay off the Internet all together. Another warning for non-users: Facebook may already have information about you anyway.

3. It would be interesting to see figures of how long people stay on Facebook. And speaking of getting people to see advertisements, this small study used eye tracking to see what catches people’s attention when they look at profiles.

3a. If Facebook does need to keep users’ attention, is there a line between always having to change things versus helping people feel comfortable with the site? I say this as we await the Timeline change and the inevitable negative responses.

4. As the article hints at by briefly looking at the pressure non-users get from Facebook users, there is a whole set of social norms that have arisen around the use of Facebook.

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