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The way we use the web is changing. The rise of social networks and apps have created closed silos where people are spending increasing amounts of time, at the expense of the open web.

There are a couple of ways for you to be reading this article: you could have entered into your browser and come here directly, you could have searched for something online and followed a link to this page. What’s increasingly likely, though, is that you could have followed a link on a social media site or app.

How Popular Are Social Networks?

Facebook has more than 1.4 billion monthly users, According to Digital Marketing Ramblings — that means that 72% of adults who use the Internet visit the site at least once a month. 936 million of them, or 65% of Internet using adults, use Facebook daily. It’s the second most visited site globally, just behind Google. These are serious numbers.

Facebook’s mobile stats are also impressive. More than 1.2 billion people use the app monthly. Two thirds of them use the app daily. 581 million, or 30% of Facebook users, only login from a mobile device.


Other social networks don’t come close to Facebook’s numbers. Even Twitter — which we love here at MakeUseOf 7 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Twitter 7 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Twitter Twitter has now been with us for seven years and counting. This was seven years to the day since Jack Dorsey sent out the first tweet in 2006, at a time when the micro-blogging social... Read More — only has around 300 million users.


Even more interesting than the raw user numbers, are how long people are spending on social media everyday. A report by eMarketer found that the average Facebook user spent 42 minutes on the service everyday. The average Twitter user clocks in at just under half that with 17 minutes. I can’t imagine people are spending anywhere near that length of time using Google.

Whatever way you look at it, huge numbers of people are using social media for a significant amount of time every day.

The Rise of Social Referrals

Since the early days of the open web, search engines, in particular Google, have been the major driver of traffic for most sites. Whole industries have grown up around optimising websites for their algorithms Demystify SEO: 5 Search Engine Optimization Guides That Help You Begin Demystify SEO: 5 Search Engine Optimization Guides That Help You Begin Search engine mastery takes knowledge, experience, and lots of trial and error. You can begin learning the fundamentals and avoid common SEO mistakes easily with the help of many SEO guides available on the Web. Read More . In the past year this changed.

According to data from Shareaholic, the percentage of website visits from social networks has risen from around 11% in 2011 to just over 30%. In the same time period, traffic from search has fallen from well over 40% to just under 30%.

The biggest shift has been with Facebook. In 2011, Facebook was responsible for 6.53% of all website referrals. Last year, Facebook drove 24.63% of them — just under a quarter of all website visits.

The open web just isn’t as important as it once was.

Facebook and Embedded Content

Google, for the most part, helps you find out what’s on other sites. Facebook isn’t content to do that: they’re looking to capitalise on the increasing amount of time people spend using their service by working with publishers to embed content directly into the newsfeed. More time on Facebook means more ad revenue.

At MakeUseOf our opinions are divided as to whether this is a good thing How Facebook Is Changing News Journalism – For The Better How Facebook Is Changing News Journalism – For The Better News outlets are considering publishing stories straight to Facebook. It's easy to be cynical. But this change could be a good thing – for readers and journalists. Read More or a bad thing Facebook Wants to Be the News Site of the Future, and That's Awful Facebook Wants to Be the News Site of the Future, and That's Awful Getting publishers on board could potentially bring Facebook's nightmarish vision to a whole new level. It's a horrible idea. Horrible for the Internet, and even worse for journalism. Here's why. Read More . Whatever your opinion, it is clearly a nail in the coffin of the open web — people will spend more time on Facebook and have less reason to visit other sites. Any that aren’t Facebook partners will see a drop in readers.

Closing Silos

While Google and the open web have been what most people think of as the Internet for the past decade, this is clearly shifting. Not only are social networks monopolising peoples’ time, but publishers are following and going where the users are.

Facebook isn’t the only social media network working with publishers to reach people away from the open web — Snapchat launched a new program Snapchat's Discover: Why It's a Social News Revolution Snapchat's Discover: Why It's a Social News Revolution Snapchat is more than just sending pictures and videos to your friends. Snapchat has grown into a powerful tool, bringing the world of news, events and trends to millions of users in a snap. Read More with 11 publishers including National Geographic, Vice, and the Daily Mail earlier this year. According to re/code the program is proving extremely successful: each Discover story is viewed between 500,000 and a million times a day. Publishers are inserting ads in the feed and are apparently getting around 10 cents per impression, or up to $100,000 a day in revenue.

While all Snapchat’s partners are existing publishers, we are already starting to see publications that ignore the open web and instead work within the social networks.

The Shade Room is a TMZ-esque gossip site that started out publishing exclusively to Instagram and later Facebook. Instead of using a more traditional content management system like WordPress, the Shade Room uses Instagram to publish directly to their followers social media feeds. They even sell ad spaces for several hundred dollars.


As social media sites increasingly make it possible for publishers to exist within their closed silos, we’re going to see more examples like the Shade Room. Why direct people to an external site when you can reach them directly where they’re spending most of their time?

What Is New Is Old

The trends are pretty clear. The web as we know it is dying. Google’s relevance is falling. It just isn’t driving the traffic it once did and bloggers are starting to notice. It looks like, over the next few years, the importance of social networks will continue to rise and publishers will follow users to the services.

Facebook is trying to become the one-stop-shop for the web, much as AOL was in the late 90s. Unlike AOL, though, Facebook is unlikely to be replaced. According to Ben Thompson of Stratechery:

“AOL provided an essential utility that was far easier-to-use than the alternatives, but that utility was obsoleted by broadband. Facebook, on the other hand, is built on the social graph: its users’ relationships. And given that the very nature of humanity is to connect and communicate with other humans, the need that Facebook has traditionally met will be with us forever. The only danger is that another service somehow takes Facebook’s place as the Rolodex of the world.”

Writing in the Awl, John Herman argues that the Internet will start to “closely resemble the TV industry” in the near future. He argues that websites will cease to be relevant and instead publishers will need to work directly with a limited number of social networks to stay relevant. Different networks will partner with different publishers and the TV paradigm of channels will be recreated all over again.

The End of the Web as We Know It

If Ben Thompson and John Herman are right, it looks like there is very little we can do to stop the shift. Publishers already struggle to make money It's About Ethics in Stealing Games Journalism: Why AdBlock Needs to Die It's About Ethics in Stealing Games Journalism: Why AdBlock Needs to Die A simple, free browser plugin killed Joystiq – and is ruining the Internet. Read More . If social networks continue to pull attention, and content creators, away from the open web there is not much that can be done to slow the process. Facebook and Snapchat reaching out to publishers and offering them an olive branch is only likely to accelerate the changes.

What seems is inevitable is that the open web as we know it is done for. Users are being consolidated into larger social networks and spending more time there. Even if Facebook and Snapchat’s attempts to get publishers using their platforms directly fails, social referrals are likely to continue to increase in importance. The web of the next few years is going to be increasingly social and mobile.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. What do you think of this potential Facebook run future?

Image Credits: aerial bombs via Shutterstock

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  1. Gal deBotton
    May 27, 2015 at 4:20 am

    This whole article is probably a paid ad by Google. To begin with, there is NOTHING open with Google !!!! In fact, Google is the materialization of Orwell's 1984 big-brother - spy on everyone and keep record of everything we ever did. Particularly Google search is dictated by who is paying Google more to put their web sites at the top of the list. Since this is the main "product" Google is selling, I suppose that alternative web trafficking drives Google nuts, and they'll do anything to eliminate it, and among other things publish this article.

  2. Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
    May 26, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    @Phil: You don't! You protest by abstaining from using that service and maybe find another one that doesn't impose those limitations/rules. It's up to us to make our own moral sacrifices by either following the flock or standing up for what we believe.

  3. Joseph Coelho SJ
    May 26, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    The way social networking sites influence human behavior and thought is a serious issue. While every service is trying to maximize the time users spend on their site, the users get drawn to what is being offered since it is convenient to get news and other interesting titbits in one place instead of having to navigate elsewhere especially on a mobile device. Facebook can surely be happy about the hits it gets daily but my fear is that the while process can result in a manipulation of how people are drawn to do one thing or another and thereby affects the choices they make and their behaviors as well.

  4. Tim Bondy
    May 26, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Seven years ago there were stories about the imminent death of the PC and then the computer mouse and now the open web? Just months ago I read a story about how businesses better start looking elsewhere for their advertising because Facebook was way too expensive and FB would likely fall in popularity at the expense of other social platforms. The more things change the more they remain the same in the queen of social media drama classes. Time will tell. I'll come back to this story in two years to see if the predictions of the death of Google and the open web came true.

    • Harry Guinness
      May 26, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      PC sales have been plummeting for years. Similarly, more and more computers are touch screen or at least use a gesture trackpad. Yes there's still a cursor but for most people mice are gone. I'm surprised at the ad article. You got a link handy? Most of the stuff I've been reading is that it's significantly undervalued. Social is equal to search traffic in volume but social ads make up a fraction of the spending.

    • Tim Bondy
      May 26, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Good enough Harry. You do understand the definition of "death"?. I encourage you to look around the world outside your inner-life. look at small businesses, government, corporations and the military for your view the PC and computer mouse is dead. (Hint, I do) Heck, most moderate bloggers would probably have troubles doing their job without a full side keyboard and mouse. But I agree PC sales are way down. So are the sale of homes. The death of the family home is imminent too?

    • Harry Guinness
      May 26, 2015 at 10:52 pm

      I haven't actually predicted Google's death by the way. They'll be around for a long time yet. But the open web as we know it is dying. People use the internet very very differently and open HTTP request are no longer the dominant protocol. Private APIs are more and more important. And yes, the traditional housing market is changing dramatically. Far more people are renting than ever before.

  5. Jose Kun
    May 26, 2015 at 4:44 am

    I don't understand why are all this guys arguing. ? I learned nothing by reading their ' knowledge'

  6. Phil Nolan
    May 26, 2015 at 2:37 am

    facebook fakes their numbers and they happily admit it. What a horrible company. Experimenting on users, tracking you when you're not even logged in. When you post something only a third of your followers see it. Unless you pay up that is. fb users should be switching to Google+ in droves. It's free, no ads, grown up conversations, your followers see ALL of your posts. it has a much nicer and easier to use Interface, the best photo tools by far. And many, many, other benefits as well.

    • James Bruce
      May 26, 2015 at 10:17 am

      Except for the fact that it has very few users by comparison, and those that do have an account don't use it anyway, which is kind of the primary factor for a social network.

    • Harry Guinness
      May 26, 2015 at 10:57 am

      Yeah, if you've no followers or friends using G+ it kind of defeats the whole *social* aspect of social network. Also, Google experiments on their users all the time. They pride themselves on it in fact. They determine everything they can with A-B testing. Finally, seriously? Google's a more privacy focussed company?

    • Phil Nolan
      May 26, 2015 at 10:52 pm

      It actually has quite a lot of users, considering it's the number two social network, beating out YouTube and Twitter. It's only just below fb. Especially when you consider facebook lying about their numbers.

    • Phil Nolan
      May 26, 2015 at 10:53 pm

      If they do experiment on users, which I highly doubt, they'd be public about it, not keeping it a secret.

  7. Henk van Setten
    May 25, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Maybe such a Facebook near-monopoly would not be such a bad thing after all. Because all the junk, all the cat photos, funny gifs, annoying webshops, absurd Kim Kardashian newsflashes, pushy advertisements and last-minute-spam would then be safely concentrated and barred behind a big solid Facebook wall, along with all the users who like that stuff.
    This might be wonderful! Because for us non-Facebook users, the remains of the "open web" would then have a chance to shrink back and revert to what the web originally was: an alternative playground for a handful of original, creative individuals.

    • Phil Nolan
      May 26, 2015 at 2:39 am

      They aren't even close to a near monopoly, they just tell you they are.

    • Harry Guinness
      May 26, 2015 at 10:59 am

      They are 100% a near-monopoly. Independent stats show time and time again that Facebook and Pinterest are the two social media sites that actually drive traffic which is a solid proxy for users.

  8. liane
    May 25, 2015 at 3:42 am

    I dont really understand the STRUCTURE of what you're describing. How will I be able to find things I want? With TV you still have to have some sorta 'guide' or 'what's on'. So will there be no guide? I don't have time to channel surf to find what I want.

    • Harry
      May 25, 2015 at 8:37 am

      Social shares and following specific things. There's not likely to be a single guide but loads of curators and individual publications.

  9. Howard Pearce
    May 25, 2015 at 12:29 am

    Free and open communication ends when the state takes control of the process of communication whether it is oral communication (speech), printed communication (press) , or internet communication.

    Opposition to such concepts as Press Neutrality , Speech Neutrality , and of course Internet Neutrality are tantamount to preserving your freedom to open communication.

    The existence of private organizations is natural and has never posed a threat to a free and open society like the government has.

    • Harry
      May 25, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Howard, that is the biggest load of rubbish. Private organisations have consistently and continually posed a threat to a free and open society. One of the first multinational companies, the East India Trading Company, subjugated an entire subcontinent in the pursuit of profit. The only reason companies don't try that still is because it's no longer socially acceptable.

    • Howard Pearce
      May 25, 2015 at 11:57 am

      I didn't say they never posed a threat of any kind . I merely said government threat was far greater as it is a coercive monopoly with no one to answer to.

      Finally you overlook the fact that the company was backed and supported by the British Government which I bet gave it all its power!!

      If you believe that private organization necessarily freedom of association are a danger to your world, by all means lets have the government step in and set things straight.

    • Harry Guinness
      May 25, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      Again you're entirely off the bat. The government answers to the people and as has been demonstrated over and over again in the past few hundred years, they can be brought down. I'm not saying that government can't be an issue but it is not the one you make it out to be. And no, the East India Trading Company drew its power from its finances and private army. It was operating for about 50 years before it came under the control of the government. The phrase "private organization necessarily freedom of association" makes absolutely no sense. Seriously, what are you trying to say here?

    • Howard A Pearce
      May 25, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      "The company also ruled the beginnings of the British Empire in India" and "The company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions." WIKIPEDIA WIKI I wonder with whose permission and power they did that ... all by themself ? So you deny that your government is a coercive monopoly ? Worse you have convinced yourself of the delusional idea that the government is really you. I assume you believe Hitler killed the jews with the permission of the german populace too. The last was meant to say that private organizations arise from our freedom of association so I assume you must believe that civil right is a danger to us too.

  10. Christopher
    May 24, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    "it is clearly a nail in the coffin of the open web" - That's a pretty extreme view don't you think? It just looks like another way to inject advertising to me. It's not the "end" of anything and doesn't make search engines any less relevant or useful.

    Besides, I don't see Facebook reigning supreme forever. Some day another youngin' will think of something new and revolutionize how people connect with what's important to them again..

    • Harry
      May 24, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Well no, as content moves to Facebook it's not accessible from the open web. The bigger it gets the more content that's locked away. A massive amount of time is spent away from the open web and it's only growing. The open web's on it's way out. Whatever revolutionises things is unlikely to be anywhere near as open.

    • Patrick Piklapp
      May 25, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      I had to recently return to FB because several sites will only let you comment if you have an account through FB. Never mind that it used to be an e-mail address. Most of these sites are doing it to "limit bad comments and flame wars", but the truth is this is how they can control who gets heard and who gets ignored.

    • Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
      May 26, 2015 at 2:15 am

      It will be interesting to see how limiting access like that will play out.

    • Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
      May 26, 2015 at 2:18 am

      @Patrick: You didn't "have" to.

    • Phil Nolan
      May 26, 2015 at 2:41 am

      Luckily I don't see any content actually moving to facecrap. They have have a presence there, but not moving there.

    • Phil Nolan
      May 26, 2015 at 2:43 am

      @Patrick Yeah it really ticks me off when sites force you to have a facebook account just to use their service. Like TechCrunch requires it for comments and a number of dating apps require it.

    • Phil Nolan
      May 26, 2015 at 2:44 am

      @Christopher How else do you post comments on those sites then?

    • Harry Guinness
      May 26, 2015 at 11:01 am

      There's more to it than that Patrick. Protecting user data has become a much bigger issue. No one actually wants to host passwords and things on their own servers. Handing it off to Facebook removes a big headache.

  11. Esteban
    May 24, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Well, I read MUO via my RSS Reader, but I'm certainly in the minority.

    • Harry
      May 24, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Actually, so do I. RSS is the shit!

    • Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
      May 26, 2015 at 2:18 am

      I LOVE RSS but can't find a reader I'm happy with. What do you use?

  12. Kuldebar
    May 24, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    While I agree with the article's criticism of Facebook, I must strongly disagree with giving Google a free pass on this very issue.

    I don't think Google is a hero in this story for the same reasons that Facebook is representing the enemy.

    Google is doing what Facebook has been doing but on a slower albeit much broader and more encompassing scale.

    Google wants to be the Internet of Things, that will include Facebook as well as your refrigerator and everything else.

    Google and Facebook are both gatekeeper institutions and should be considered untrustworthy for that reason alone because that’s way too much control and power. The scale of this should be terrifying because it truly represents the proverbial basket holding all the eggs.

    The Internet of today is simply lacking true competition in certain areas necessary to combat this ongoing homogenization, and every day it looks less and less likely to do so.


    • Harry
      May 24, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      I'm not giving Google a pass on the issue and nor actually am I entirely against what Facebook is doing. But yes, the Internet does lack competition.

  13. ReadandShare
    May 24, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Forgot to add to my post above... posting general comments is the exception to my aversion to 'broadcasting'. :)

  14. ReadandShare
    May 24, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I'm definitely in the minority here. I rarely, if ever, go to FB. I am also not on any other social network. Rather than broadcasting to 'everyone'... I still prefer talking to specific individual(s) at a time -- a la email.

    The sites I go to often are bookmarked. I also use "search" a lot -- Startpage and Bing. Ah, me....

    • Harry
      May 24, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      Yeah I think you really are in the minority. The issue is when content starts exclusively going to social networks you'll need to join to access it.

    • Mark Bauman
      May 24, 2015 at 11:21 pm

      I'm in the same minority - been online since the age of BBS's, The Well, Compuserve and then the Web. I also prefer email and have eschewed all manner of social networks. And I use aggregators to ferret out information from a myriad of sources that interest me.

    • luvnak
      June 23, 2015 at 12:25 am

      I am also in the minority, as well as at least 3 members of my family, and another member has a FB account but only uses it when a website doesn't give her another option. I also don't use any other social media, although I think I have a G+ account, technically speaking. I have run into a few sites where I might be able to access a bit of info, but most of the info is unavailable unless you log in via FB. It's very unfortunate. I truly hope something occurs to move people away from a FB monopoly.

  15. Dimitri
    May 24, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    It is not that FB kills the web but it is Google done nothing for a decade but squeezing profits from users and partners, and so making them dumber and greedier, all ready for FB. Enjoy yourself.

    • Harry
      May 24, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Oh Google deffo isn't innocent. I'm writing an article about that at the moment. But I disagree with it making them dumber or greedier. It really doesn't follow.

  16. dragonmouth
    May 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    "Unlike AOL, though, Facebook is unlikely to be replaced."
    When AOL was king, nobody, even Mark Zuckerberg, could conceive of it ever being replaced. Then came a technology and paradigm shift and AOL was replaced. As yet unknown technology can cause another paradigm shift and make FB go the way of AOL. History is full of "unlikely to be replaced" being replaced and forgotten. History is against FB.

    • Harry
      May 24, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Well no, AOL was a requirement for many. With broadband they moved away. Facebook is a deliberate choice. I'm not saying it can't be replaced but the longer it sticks around the less likely it is to be. At a guess, a minimum of another 10 years.

  17. Doctor0710
    May 24, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    I still fail to see how centralized, accessible, discussible knowledge is a bad thing.

    • Tens
      May 24, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      It isn't.
      It's just that people usually don't get addicted to good things, rather bad things.
      Else junk food, drugs, tobacco wouldn't be such thriving industries.

    • Harry
      May 24, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      Centralisation enables control. I'm not sure how I feel about the issue as a whole but it gives Facebook a massive degree over control over what's allowed as information. No nipples for example.