Saturday, September 08, 2007

"Strangely addictive"

Two weeks in to Facebook and I agree with my friend Dan: "it's strangely addictive." There are two great appeals to people like me, who spend a lot of time online (or in my case, also believe the Internet is most closely akin to tribal drums out in the wild -- they're always beating; you just don't always hear them). The sense of "small pieces loosely joined" fits the world of FB: you're sort of connected, the tribe is busy, people are leaving tidbits, there's a sense of group throb. You dip in and out. You see what's new. You get inspired yourself, or laugh, or share. Your actions spark others, and vice versa. (It's like real life, or meatspace, as we used to call it, but -- better. Fewer requirements for responsible follow-up.)

Much more than LinkedIn, which is a reasonably straightforward business connection service I've enjoyed, FB entices you back every day (or multiple times a day). One of the big advantages of FB is the ability to send and receive messages within the app -- no upsell or walled garden to scale to reach people directly. (Classmates especially, and LinkedIn perhaps, will lose out in part because of this.) With LinkedIn, I feel as if I need to go there every week or two to see who's pinging me for a favor. (It's all about where you work and who you know.)

But meanwhile on FB, in the last couple of weeks I've literally heard from 10 people I wouldn't have thought to reach via email, or couldn't have found another way -- in a couple of cases, people I hadn't been in touch with for 20 years. I've heard about cross-country moves, a divorce, new jobs, new ideas. This information flow just would not have occurred without FB.

Another great aspect is the web of connections - who knows who from where. I just noticed that two friends I know *don't* know each other just joined the San Francisco network today. Maybe it's all idle, random, forgettable stuff, but it's early days yet. The rise of the affinity groups (business, entrepreneurial, fan-based, fun-based) are another element worth watching. Smart companies are engaging here, and it seems a natural for both media businesses and startups in particular. (Journalists must surely be having a field day just watching the network action.)

Of course, there's a shortcoming or two. One obvious one is the missing reason why I might know someone: a business acquaintance! We didn't work together. We didn't go to school together. We didn't travel together. We didn't sleep together. Our paths crossed because of our business or business network dealings. In its obvious and recent rush to cater to grownups, that's a huge miss I hope FB gets hip to pronto. Another one: limiting the geo networks you can join. Why should I have pick between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, or have some silly waiting period when switching? What does FB care about how many geo networks I might be affiliated with? Social networks work when individuals can express and find connections for all their affiliations, interests, locations. This oversight mystifies me.

Even so. The third party apps are quite interesting, though I'll be damned if I'm going to pick among ~200 people every time I want to invite someone to try out a new one I just discovered. (The Simpsons avatar-maker is, of course, fantastic.) Meet my alter-ego.

In other words, for the time being, I'm kinda hooked. I'll keep futzing around, and I'll keep signing in. (And I'll keep ignoring the ads - they're quite lame and forgettable.)

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