Published August 25, 2011
Sunny days sometimes turn dark and dismal. A shirt that looked good on the rack at Target now sits in the bargain bin at Staples. And, that new car with the Hemi engine and the third-row back-seat? It now drives like a crusty tank.
The same is true of web sites. What seemed so fresh when you first registered now seems like a ghost town. What happened? According to Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg, site visitors routinely check the door to see if anyone else is leaving for better services. Like lemmings, they can pull up stakes and leave in a heartbeat. (Facebook, are you listening?) All you can hear are the crickets.
This popular gossip site's traffic has dropped 75 percent this year, according to Compete, and has wallowed in its own bad press over the years: cuts in freelancer budgets, a stalker map that showed the location of celebs, and several site changes. Meanwhile, tech sister-site Gizmodo has risen in the ranks, growing views by 10 percent this year.
Foster Kamer, a former Gawker writer who now works for the Village Voice, shared some insight on his former gig with New Yorker writer Ben McGrath for a 2010 article: “But you’re scooping the muck from the sewer and holding it up in your hand and saying, ‘Look at this. Smell this.’ ”
Sometimes, it’s hard to say whether a Web site is actually dying. Chatroulette.com is a site that lets you chat with a stranger; sometimes, the stranger is naked. Visitor counts are on the rise again, hovering around 1 million after a 25 percent drop this year, per Compete.com. The site went live in late 2009, and Wired wrote about it early last year. Andrey Ternovskiy from Russia created the site when he was 17. What has died out is the press coverage: the tech media is not touching the site anymore. Most critically: The site offers nothing extra beyond what you can do on Skype. “Chatroulette was a fad, an interesting one for a while, but was invaded by male exhibitionists, and most people aren't into that sort of voyeurism,” says Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies (www.ndpta.com).
Statistics don’t lie – they just help explain the mystery. Digg.com started out in 2004 as the brain-child of San Francisco whiz-kid Kevin Rose and allowed visitors to “digg” a link so that everyone could see what was popular. In the past year, the site has been bleeding users by the boatload. There were 8 million visitors in January; this month, there were only about 3 million, per Compete.com. That’s a 60 percent drop. Competitor Reddit, which has maintained an interest level, is not so ad-centric. But the real killer is Twitter, which has become a link aggregator and social medium. Kay agrees: Many people find their Web links on Facebook these days.
You would think MySpace would have gotten the message by now: Users don’t like ugly banner ads that fill the page, and a consistent user interface is more appealing to most than one that allows crazy customizations. MySpace had 30 million visitors in July, per Compete.com, but Facebook squashed them like a bug with 150 million. The real story: MySpace had 64 million visitors in July of last year.. That’s a 54 percent drop. Gartenberg says the drop is almost inexplicable: Users just gave up on visiting. Kay argues that the brand was somehow tarnished and uses antiquated technology.
Going from 2 million users to just 600,000 in one year might seem like a crushing blow. But consider this: AOL bought the upstart social network in 2008 for $850 million. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, AOL sold it for just $10 million last year. So what happened? This one is a mystery. Kay says that there is no real explanation, because the site offers similar services to Facebook and even Tumblr.com.
One of the oldest and most-beloved online magazines, Salon.com has sunk like a rock lately, losing about 1 million regular visitors over the past year, a 37 percent decline, per Compete.com. Once again, there is no reasonable explanation for the sharp decline, but there are a few clues. The user-hemorrhaging started almost immediately last November when the main editor, Joan Walsh, took a back-seat to write a new book. Many online magazines have struggled to balance free content with paid services, and Salon tends to be a little ad heavy at times. Kay says Salon has had a hard time competing with classier mags like The New Yorker.
Blogging is dead – or at least it has shifted to another medium. Now, instead of typing several pages worth of material, most Web users just tap in a 140-character sentiment on Twitter. “Long-form” blogging is not as popular, and we all know the jokes about the blogger in his parent’s basement. Sites like Blogger.com and TypePad.com have declined considerably of late, dropping about 25-30 percent in user visits per Compete.com. Granted, some have discovered the streamlined blogging tool WordPress.com, which has enjoyed steady growth the past few years.
Sadly, one of the best tech sites on the Web has seen declining user involvement. Started as a home project focused mostly on computer tech, the site grew to almost one million users back in 2008. Quantcast.com shows a bar graph that looks like a ski slope: user counts dipped down to slightly more than 100,000 in April, although the latest counts are in the 500,000 range.