Has the Facebook bubble burst in the West?

It's looking increasingly like Facebook's bubble has burst, in developing nations at least.

No-one could deny that the social networking site is one of the Internet's most important cultural phenomenons having passed half a billion users some time ago, and regularly being cited as a major contributor to a number of social uprisings in the Middle East and Africa that have unseated despots and deposed dictators.

It's not infeasible to suggest that, alongside micro-blogging site Twitter, Facebook has had more of a hand in the democratisation of the planet than any other organisation or individual in the brief history of our civilisation.

But recent fears over security, and Facebook's heavy-handed implementation of stealthily-imposed 'features' like face recognition - which few people asked for and even fewer actually wanted - have made the company look embarrassingly out of touch with its users.

Now it seems those users in the USA and Europe who made Facebook the force it is today are leaving the fold in their droves. One recent report from Facebean-counting outfit Inside Facebook suggests that 7.4 million American and Canadian users jumped ship in May 2011 alone. The UK, Russia and Norway also shed more than 100,000 users each during the same period.

But the numbers are not all bad news for the friend-finding social network. No doubt fuelled by the part Facebook played in the Arab Uprising, many so-called 'emerging' nations are bolstering the network's numbers, with the likes of Mexico, Brazil and India all showing strong growth on the back up rapidly-growing uptake of cheaper smartphones.

In fact, we think it wouldn't be overly irresponsible to ponder whether Facebook is an important enough indicator of social unrest, that a rapid increase in its uptake in some of those countries might be a portent of impending political upheaval.

If we were sitting in a seat of power in Mexico, for example, which saw two million new users sign up in the space of a month, we might be looking towards friends in high places for a bit of additional support.

We're reasonably sure Facebook's rise and fall in the Western world will be of little concern to Mark Zuckerberg and his many minions. After all, he still has billions of people left to sign up.

Unfortunately for Facebook, as those users become more tech-savvy, they too will realise that a company that really only has one saleable asset - the personal data of its users - will continue to attempt to monetise that information in any way it can.

Website Inside Facebook has noticed some interesting behaviour in the way each country's uptake of Facebook behaves, and has observed that most regions reach a kind of saturation point at around 50 per cent of the population.

In some countries that might simply be because only half of the populace has access to the Internet. It might be because Facebook's relatively narrow demographic (under 13s are technically banned, and most over-50s can't be bothered) only covers that 50 per cent.

Or it could be that the other half are smart enough to realise that entrusting all of your personal data and web-browsing habits to a company that makes most of its money by analysing exactly what you're doing, and who you're doing it with (or to), and selling that information on to the highest bidder, is probably not the best way to stay safe in an increasingly dangerous on-line world.

Love it or hate it - and we have to admit to being on the fence on this one - Facebook is undoubtedly here to stay for the foreseeable future, at least on a far-flung continent.

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