Facebook outage spotlights social media addiction

Frustrated Facebook users find themselves jonesing for updates when site crashes

After Facebook went down on Thursday, one thing was certain: People don't like to go without their favorite social networking site.

Industry watchers say Facebook users suffering through the two-and-a-half-hour outage were like drug addicts going through withdrawal. Facebook's more than 500 million users have grown accustomed to sharing updates about their cats and colleagues, and posting funny pictures of drunken friends and kids acting silly. They certainly don't like it when the social networking site goes down.

"This shows how integrated these tools have become to our everyday lives," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "It has become nearly an addiction, and it is difficult for most of us to turn them off. Social networks have a status aspect to them, and we are hardwired to need status so they are very easy to become addicted to."

While Enderle said sites like Facebook have "nearly" become an addiction, others go even further.

This past summer, a report from The Oxygen Media Insights Group, which is part of a company that focuses on Web sites for women, noted that a majority of the women in a survey said they are addicted to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

More than half (57%) of the women polled said they communicate with people more online than they do face to face, and 39% called themselves Facebook addicts.

And analysts say social media's addictive qualities aren't only catnip for women. Men are also posting, uploading and checking out news feeds throughout the day.

That was evident on Friday, when Facebook suffered its second outage in as many days.

With Facebook offline, frustrated users flocked to vent their frustrations on Twitter and even resorted to e-mail, which has been viewed as retro since the advent of social networking.

One commenter, going by the name Thenar, tweeted, "@facebook You can't be down...it's unthinkable. Life IS FB for too many people. Redundancy is the key, guys. Now get to it."

Someone named BugFrog tweeted, "Congress considering emergency funds to help out Farmville farmers hurt by Facebook outage," while maxxhendriks joked, "Facebook is down! Users are roaming the streets shoving photos in people's faces and screaming "DO YOU LIKE THIS? DO YOU?"

While some users joked that U.S. worker productivity might skyrocket without Facebook, others said that instead of focusing on work, they spent their time complaining about the outage.

"Non-productive! Spent time: Googling problem, Tweeting-complaining," noted dstatler on Twitter.

Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research, said he was in the same boat.

"I'm not sure I was more productive," he told Computerworld. "I used the Facebook outage as an opportunity for humor on Twitter. I tweeted things like, 'I feel so lonely & isolated all of a sudden. I was forced to have an actual face2face conversation with someone! #facebookdown.' And 'Did you know when you talk to a real person, their mouth moves? I'm used to chatting w/ profile pics & avatars! #facebookdown.' OK, I didn't say it was good humor!"

But Ray said the outage, and users' reactions to it, makes clear how connected people are with the site and with the friends and family they communicate with on it.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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