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    Is Facebook now as un-hip as, well, e-mail?

    Over-50 users growing fastest; opt-outs not rare

    For Daniel Singer, a Los Angeles resident, Facebook is a daily routine. But that may be true for fewer teens these days.
    Nick Ut /Associated Press
    For Daniel Singer, a Los Angeles resident, Facebook is a daily routine. But that may be true for fewer teens these days.

    NEW YORK — To see what Facebook has become, look no further than the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer. Sometime last year, people began sharing tongue-in-cheek reviews of the banana-shaped piece of yellow plastic with their Facebook friends. Then those friends shared with their friends. Soon, after Amazon paid to promote it, posts featuring the $3.49 utensil were appearing in even more Facebook feeds.

    At some point, though, the joke got old. But there it was, again and again — the banana slicer had become a Facebook version of the knock-knock joke your uncle has told for years.

    Has Facebook become less fun?


    That’s something many users — especially those in their teens and early 20s — are asking as they wade through endless posts, photos ‘‘liked’’ by people they barely know, and spur-of-the moment friend requests. Has it all become too much of a chore? Are the life events of your loved ones drowning in a sea of banana slicer jokes?

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    ‘‘When I first got Facebook I literally thought it was the coolest thing to have,” says Rachel Fernandez, 18, who signed up four or five years ago. And now? ‘‘Facebook got kind of boring.’’

    The Pew Research Center recently found that 61 percent of Facebook users had taken a hiatus from the site for reasons that range from ‘‘too much gossip and drama’’ to ‘‘boredom.’’ Some respondents said there simply isn’t enough time in the day for Facebook.

    If Facebook Inc.’s users leave, or check in less frequently, its revenue growth would suffer. The company, which depends on targeted advertising, booked revenue of $5.1 billion in 2012, up from $3.7 billion a year earlier.

    But so far, for every person who has left, several have joined up. Facebook has more than 1 billion users around the world; 618 million sign in daily.


    ‘‘We have never seen a social space that actually works for everybody,’’ says danah boyd, who studies youth culture, the Internet, and social media at Microsoft Research. ‘‘People don’t want to hang out with everybody they have ever met.’’

    Might Facebook go the way of e-mail? Those who came of age in the ‘‘You’ve got mail’’ era can reminisce fondly about arriving home from school and checking their AOL accounts. Boyd, who is 35 (and legally spells her name with no capitalization), recalls being a teen and ‘‘thinking e-mail is the best thing ever.’’

    Few share that sentiment these days. Although e-mail has gone from after-school treat to a dull routine in 20 years, no one is ready to ring its death knell. Similarly, Facebook’s lost luster doesn’t necessarily foreshadow its obsolescence.

    ‘‘I don’t see teenagers leaving in droves,’’ boyd says. ‘‘I just don’t see it being their site of passion.’’

    In early March, Facebook unveiled a redesign to address some of its users’ gripes. The retooling is intended to get rid of clutter.


    Facebook surveys its users regularly. Jane Leibrock, whose title at Facebook is user experience researcher, says about a year ago she noticed people were complaining about clutter. She asked them what they meant. It turns out that the different types of content flowing through people’s News Feeds — links, ads, photos, status updates, things people ‘‘liked’’ or commented on — were ‘‘making it difficult to focus on any one thing,’’ she says.

    ‘Kind of like brushing your teeth.’

    The new design seeks to address the issue. There is a distinct feed for ‘‘all friends,’’ another for different groups of friends, one just for photos, and one for pages that users follow.

    As a result, says Chris Struhar, lead engineer on the new design, people have a way to see everything that’s going on.

    ‘‘The amount of stories you have available to see has continued to increase,’’ Struhar says. ‘‘What we try to do now is give you more control.”

    With that, the company hopes, people will spend more time on the site and share more information about themselves so companies can target them better with advertisements.

    Tammy Gordon, vice president of AARP’s social media team, says the 50-plus set is just now settling into Facebook. The group’s own Facebook page grew to a million fans last year.

    This age group is growing the fastest because older people tend to be latecomers to Facebook.