In baseball, trend-spotting tends to be based on statistical analysis. In fashion, it's driven by runway shows. And when it comes to social networks, the ascendant paradigm for forecasting the future seems to center on first-person anecdotes and unsupported hearsay from random teen-agers.
Earlier this year it was Josh Miller's unnamed 15-year-old sister who drove the media conversation around the alleged decline of Facebook and the rise of Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr. This week it's a post on the social-media blog Mashable by a 13-year-old HelloGiggles correspondent named Ruby Karp. Her post, headlined "I'm 13 and None of My Friends Use Facebook," has garnered some 36,000 Facebook shares since it was published on Sunday. It has, predictably, launched a fresh armada of blog posts heralding the imminent fall of the great social network.
"Is this the beginning of the end for Facebook?" one asks. "Is Facebook hurtling toward irrelevance, or is it already there?" wonders MSN. Mashable's own Todd Wasserman was moved by Karp's post to speculate about whether Facebook is the next Yahoo. The Huffington Post this week is hosting a live video segment centered on the question, "Without Teens, Does Facebook Have a Future?"
That's an interesting hypothetical. But - call me old-fashioned - I'd prefer to draw data from a slightly wider sample than Ruby Karp and Josh Miller's sister before drawing firm conclusions about the death of Facebook among teens. To be clear, I'm not saying that posts like Miller's and Karp's are without merit. When analyzing the prospects of billion-dollar companies whose fortunes rely in significant part on their cachet among young people, it's great to hear from some actual teens now and then among all the middle-aged talking heads. But the sweeping generalizations some media outlets were quick to make on the basis of Karp's blog post left me wondering: Did they actually read it?