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Facebook fatigue? Not a chance, experts say

Tuesday - 12/20/2011, 7:02am  ET

Amy Hunter, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- Facebook is sure to capture headlines next year for its much-anticipated initial public offering, but statistics showing a significant decline in the site's growth have some wondering if "Facebook fatigue" has set in.

As first reported in The New York Times, the number of Americans who visited Facebook grew by 10 percent in the last fiscal year, as opposed to 56 percent the year before.

That figure is illustrated by some users who say they are sick of the site.

"I've avoided Facebook for months for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I was going through a difficult personal time (miscarriage) and could not handle the comments and baby pictures on Facebook all day long," says Rachel Davis, a D.C. resident.

"Then, when I got back onto Facebook, the rules had changed and now it seems everything has more complicated layers of options for me to choose from -- and frankly, I don't care enough to go through the process of learning it all."

Another user, Sheri Young of Cheverly, Md., says she's nearly finished with the social networking site and believes she'll delete her account in the near future.

"I set the privacy settings so no one can post on my wall. My next step will be so that no one will see my wall," she says. "I'm a Twitter person now."

But experts say these complaints are not actual indicators of "Facebook fatigue," and that the phenomenon likely has no actual merit.

David Johnson, an assistant professor at American University's School of Communication, says it's more likely that the site is close to "saturation" -- it's reached just about everyone it's going to reach.

"You know, everyone already has a refrigerator, so there's not a big run on refrigerators," he says, explaining.

Facebook currently has 800 million users worldwide, 200 million of which are in the U.S. -- approximately two-thirds of the population. That number is probably contained by the digital divide, Johnson says. Facebook can't reach people who aren't online or who don't have computers because of income or age.

"I think they're at the point where there is just nowhere else to go. And, why would they need to keep growing? That's a constant question we need to be asking ourselves. The mindset of our economy is that there needs to be continual growth for success," he says.

Darrell West, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, also says Facebook has more likely reached the point of maximum penetration.

"I don't think people are losing interest," he says. "Most Americans who want to be on Facebook are on it. So the opportunities for growth are more limited."

West says the company has considerable opportunity for growth in other parts of the developing world, such as India and China.

Industry speculation suggests Facebook's IPO is expected next spring at a possible valuation of $100 billion.

"Industry people seem to think that's the real number," West says. "So they certainly have developed a lot of interest, and they appear well-poised for the future."

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)