The bubble of social networks is starting to burst.
Research released from Internet research firm ComScore Jan. 23 confirmed that the top two social networks, Facebook and MySpace, both saw their traffic decline by double-digit percents.
The research, conducted in November and December, surveyed browsing habits of more than 2 million American consumers. It found that although social networks are losing customers, other popular Web sites among students, such as Google, YouTube and Craigslist.org, increased in numbers.
Google (7.2 billion), Yahoo! (2.3 billion) and Microsoft sites (963 million) were listed as the top three Web sites for hits. Fox Interactive Media, which owns MySpace, had 350 million visitors and Facebook had 102 million for the month of December.
Computer science and engineering professor John Riedl said social networking sites became popular among people seeking to build relationships - a lot of people thought the Internet would help create relationships different from those in real life, he said, but it's not.
"One of the challenges with running one of these large social networking sites is you are always trying to figure out what it is that people want and then balancing that against how do you make money off it," he said.
Riedl said Facebook's social ads - which are targeted to users based on hobbies and interests listed on their profile - are an example-gone-wrong of the site trying to adapt to peoples' needs.
"These ads probably drove a lot of people away because they didn't want people knowing what they were buying," he said.
Another possible reason for the reduction of customers to these sites is an increase in niche networking sites, Riedl said, for example, for people who like to travel. While Facebook has applications for travelers, it's not the same as a site devoted to these people.
This argument has been ongoing, Riedl said.
Another niche site exists for the role-playing video game "World of Warcraft," which "has an intense social network" and the people in the circles create relationships that are important to them, he said.
The future of social interaction on the Internet is changing, Riedl said.
Google has started its own open social network for people to meet others with the same interests. OpenSocial allows people to create their own applications based on their interests. Its goal, according to its Web site, is to provide members the chance to connect with people around them.
Riedl said sites like these consisting of small applications that grow into social networking sites will combine to take on the big sites.
Contrary to the results of the recent survey, many students continue to use Facebook and MySpace.
First-year economics major Graison Hensley-Chapman said he's had a Facebook account since his senior year of high school and checks it daily.
He said after graduation, he closed his MySpace account because many of his friends just had Facebook.
Hensley-Chapman said he doesn't check his account as often now because of all the applications.
"I liked the old one better because it seemed more mature, but it's not enough to keep me off the site," he said.