Pew report shows some Facebook users dialing down usage

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed reported taking a 'Facebook vacation' at some point

Facebook makes it easy to connect with people online, but some of its users say they got burned out on the site or grew tired of their friends' "drama," a new survey shows.

More than a quarter, or 28 percent, of those quizzed in a recent Pew Internet Project survey said Facebook has become less important to them than it was a year ago, with about the same proportion saying they expect to spend less time on the social network in 2013. More than a third of users said the amount of time they spend on the site has decreased over the past year.

Things got heated when respondents were asked open-ended questions about their experiences on the site -- feelings of exhaustion, frustration and irritation were a theme among some users. Some sample responses: "I was tired of stupid comments." "It was not getting me anywhere." "Too much drama." "I got tired of minding everybody else's business."

Those answers represent the views of a certain type of user, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the report. While people on opposite ends of the social networking spectrum will either love new technologies or hate them, it's the ones in the middle trying to figure things out who regularly raise questions, he said.

"These are the guys who say 'It's not worth it' for a while. It's a common story playing out on Facebook today," he said.

The majority of users, or 59 percent, said Facebook is as important to them today as it was a year ago, and 69 percent said they plan to spend the same amount of time on the site this year as in the past.

But 61 percent of the Facebook users surveyed reported they had at some point taken a break from the site for several weeks or more, citing a lack of interest, irrelevant content or being too busy. About 9 percent of those who took a "Facebook vacation" said there was too much drama, gossip and negativity on the site.

The numbers don't mean Facebook is in trouble. The company continues to add new users, and it reported a 40 percent jump in revenue for the last quarter. It has also been increasing the ad revenue it collects from mobile users, seen as important for its future growth.

And more than two-thirds of online adults -- or 69 percent -- use a social network of some kind, up from less than half of online adults in 2009, the Pew Research Center found. Facebook is by far the most popular social network in the U.S., used by two-thirds of online adults, compared with 20 percent for LinkedIn and 16 percent for Twitter, according to Pew.

The report, "Coming and Going on Facebook," is based on a telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults in the U.S., conducted in December. Pew is no stranger to digital trends analysis, but this study, the results of which were due to be released Tuesday, is the first to look at these types of Facebook-specific user trends, Pew's Rainie said.

Online chatter revolving around politics likely played a role in people's responses, given that the survey was conducted following Election Day and the presidential campaign, he said. For instance, by the end of the campaign some 16 percent of all social network users, including not just Facebook but other sites such as Twitter, had unfriended someone for something they had said about the candidates or the issues, according to Pew.

Nonetheless, the study shows that people are becoming increasingly cognizant of how they are portrayed online and are asking "big social questions" about the time, effort and advantages of connecting with others, Rainie said.

"These data show that people are trying to make new calibrations in their life to accommodate new social tools," Rainie said in an email. "They are adding up the pluses and minuses on a kind of networking balance sheet and they are trying to figure out how much they can get out of connectivity versus how much they put into it."

"People are asking themselves, 'Is this worth my time? What are the requirements of me?'" he said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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