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The five stages of Facebook grief

July 17, 2010 06:00 AM ET

A gaming site called Roiworld surveyed 600 teenagers and found that 20% of teens have either dropped Facebook or are using it less. Of those who have abandoned Facebook altogether, 43% say it's because there are "too many adults or older people," their parents are on Facebook or because they're concerned about privacy.

[ See related: Are we burning out on Facebook? ]

Teens are a "leading indicator" here. The rest of us will follow. Facebook users appear to follow a predictable pattern of evolution with their feelings about Facebook, and teenagers are just further along.

Here are the five stages of Facebook grief:

1. Confusion. What's it for? How do I use it? Why would anyone want to post here? Who's seeing this?

2. Discovery. Hey, my high school friends are here. Reading my News Feed actually makes me feel more connected to people. This is actually pretty fun. I look forward to checking Facebook every day. I love this.

3. Utility. Facebook helps me stay connected to former colleagues, which could help me find a job in the future. I learn things about my own kids that is valuable to me that I wouldn't otherwise hear. It's easier to communicate with everyone on Facebook than e-mail, phone calls or any other means. I need this.

4. Embarrassment. Whoa! I did NOT want my co-workers to see the picture of me someone else tagged. Too much personal information in that post! Whoops! I did not mean to offend someone -- I forgot who would be listening.

5. Withdrawal. To avoid problems, I'm going to have to assume that everything I say is public, not private like I used to think. I'll minimize my posts or stop using Facebook altogether.

Facebook's popularity is based on the reality that human beings are social creatures. Staying connected with people we know is innate to us. But maintaining separate social groups that we don't want to clash is also innate.

In the same way that Facebook got popular by satisfying our need to connect, either Facebook or a competitor will get popular by doing something about Stage 5, which is where we're all heading (if not already there.)

How social networks should work

The social network of the future will pattern itself after real-world social groupings. It will enable people to have private, closed, secure conversations within groups, without fear that one social group will gain access to the conversations of another.

One simple approach would be for a social networking site to force you to place each new friend into one or more social groups. Default labels could be "immediate family," "extended family," "former co-workers," "classmates," "best friends," etc.

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