The numbers don’t lie: Facebook is faltering. So what will eventually replace it?

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Facebook in 2004

Calling Facebook a mere “social network” at this point is a bit dismissive. The once relatively simple site started as a place college students could go to connect, poke, and make known their relationship status. It was an innocent alternative to MySpace — a safe space even — and users flocked to it.

As more users flocked to the service, it opened up to the general public. The business expanded. Mark Zuckerberg and his team had a vision and a path to get there. They went after it with a simple interface focused on social interaction, sharing your interests, and posting your thoughts in pithy, emotion-tagged one-liners to your wall. It was at once both fun and addictive. And perhaps most of all, it was harmless.

For the first time in its history, Facebook user growth is slowing down.

In fact, the first version of Facebook status was so simple that it was self limiting. It simply stated “Josh is __________” and asked the user to fill it out. “Josh is listening to music.” “Josh is feeling content.” “Josh is contemplating the end of Facebook.” In its straight-forward innocence, Facebook became the new, safe place to hang out online that wasn’t Javascript-riddled, auto-playing MySpace.

Within months, millions of people had signed up for Facebook accounts. Almost overnight, MySpace looked like a relic, a night club or bar no one wanted to be seen at anymore.

Facebook’s popularity exploded. In 2007, it opened up the status field to an open form. And just like that, users were invited to share their every thought. In 2009, users could @tag one another. In 2011, the Facebook status character limit jumped from 500 to 5,000. It jumped again for more than 63,000 characters just a few months later.

Fast forward to today. Facebook isn’t just a place to post statuses, whether they’re 500-character one-offs or 63,000 character novellas. It’s a publishing platform for more than 2 billion people and businesses. It makes and breaks companies. It’s had major media outlets wrapped around its fingers as a primary way to distribute content. And it’s become a political tool that has forever changed the way we see democracy.

“It’s time to leave that bloated Facebook mess behind.”

And it’s this massive reach that just may be pulling Facebook apart at the seams. There are cracks in the armor. But will it be abandoned like MySpace was? Is there a safe space for users to flock to today?

Mention Facebook to anyone under 30 and you’ll likely get an upturned nose, a comment about old people, and then something something about Instagram. Mention Facebook to anyone over 30 and you’ll likely get a story about keeping up with old friends, Candy Crush Saga, and then a disconcerted comment about privacy.

But Facebook continues to attract users by the billions — 2.3 billion users per month at last count.

But that growth is slowing. Facebook user growth — as of Facebook’s most-recent earnings report is flat in America and down in Europe. That’s a first for Facebook.

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Let that sink in for a moment: For the first time in its history, Facebook user growth is slowing down. Users are no longer flocking to Facebook. That’s an external, objective factor that is hard to dispute.

But what about internal cracks at Facebook? How is the company performing as a place to work? After all, a happy workforce is critical for growth.

It turns out that, at least according to anonymous review trends collected at Glassdoor, Facebook employees are becoming less optimistic about the company’s future. Data culled from Glassdoor at Thinknum shows a decline in a key metric: When asked how employees feel about Facebook’s near future, a clear decline over time is seen.

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This is the question Facebook employees answer when asked about the company’s future: “Do you believe your company’s business outlook will get better, stay the same or get worse in the next six months?”

Sure, on average 89 percent of respondents say that the company’s business outlook is good. But that’s down from 93 percent a year ago.

Similarly, the number of Facebook employees who would recommend the company as a good place to work appears to be on the decline, moving from a high of 95% last summer to 91% today.

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