The Ugly Question

Going by the number of people who pooh-pooh, write off or just plain criticise Facebook, and by the vehemence with which they do it, I’m surprised that they aren’t calling it the F-word.

I feel old and in the way. Seen it all before. In fact, I’ve seen it so many times that I’m tempted to start asking the ugly question:

Have you actually spent any time using it?

You’d be amazed at the responses you get.

People love to pontificate about phenomena like Facebook without ever having used it “in anger”. Reminds me of a story my Physics teacher used to tell, about the way the Greeks apparently argued about things like stones and feathers and free fall. A stone fell quickly, a feather fell slowly. If you tied a stone to a feather, would the resulting mess fall faster than the stone (because the combination was heavier) or more slowly (because the feather “slowed down” the stone). The point he was trying to make was that they kept debating the issue without ever actually trying it out. The Romans, on the other hand, just climbed up a tall building and watched what happened. Or so the story goes.

This post isn’t really about Facebook, but then again maybe it is. Maybe we can learn something from looking at the types of people who object to Facebook. Here’s my light-hearted list:

Hrrumph Steak: This is the type of person who goes red in the face when you ask him whether he’s actually used Facebook at all, and remains embarrassedly silent. Dead meat in more ways than one.

Billy Slow-Mates: This guy is actually nothing more than a shy late adopter, waiting to see what his friends do. In the meantime he hopes he keeps his street cred by claiming complete ignorance. Usually a true fanatic once converted.

IM I Said: This is the guy who’s taken this long to discover instant messaging and texting, and doesn’t feel he needs another mode of communication. Often seen buying LaserDiscs and, occasionally, Betamax tapes.

Time Lord: This person just considers Facebook to be a waste of time and that’s that. Probably because it interferes with his Word Search and Sudoku.

The Jobcentred: The sort of guy who thinks you’re slacking on the job if you talked about the cricket or the weather while waiting for the lift to arrive.

I’m sure there are many good reasons why people think Facebook is evil. I just don’t know any of them. As with anything else, moderation is called for, and there are many ways by which moderation is arrived at. Most people I know who use Facebook have fairly full lives. Remember that all this started with college students, real social animals in the main. People who imagine that Facebook users are introverted No-First-Life loners couldn’t be further from the truth. Facebook is about community and interaction.

And it’s this facet of Facebook, the community and its interactions, that I will write about next in my Facebook and the Enterprise series.

15 thoughts on “The Ugly Question”

  1. JP, I am kind of curious as to how you classify yourself, particularly in light of the evidence on this very blog of a reader who tried and failed to contact you on Facebook! For my part I approach anything new on the Internet with caution. In the context of the blog post I wrote this morning, my reasons have more to do with security than with productivity:

    As was the case with blogging, I wait for enough evidence to come in against which I can determine whether or not it will do no harm and possibly do some good. Thus, I am neither red-faced nor shy. I just believe (as you should know by my reaction to the Kathy Sierra incident) that the whole Internet should be treated with caution; and I practice what I preach!

    I do not think I have associated the world “evil” with Facebook; nor have I seen any of the participants in this discussion do so. Rather, I have seen a fair amount of effort towards moderation in the face of enthusiasm! My own “bottom line” is that, since I currently consult under my own shingle, I tend to be careful about how I manage my resources. Those resources are obviously modest compared to the resources of any large enterprise, so I would expect those enterprises to be even MORE careful. So I shall wait for more evidence along the lines of what I discuss on my own blog (rather than anecdotes and articles of faith, a concept which I DO recall using in these exchanges) and act accordingly!

  2. Not sure what you mean, Stephen. At last count over 200 people had succeeded in finding me there.
    Perhaps someone misspelt my name? It is actually easier to connect with me via facebook than any other way, since I keep forgetting to put my email address on the blog.

    The only reader who tried to contact me via a comment chose to use that route for reasons I don’t know. And I needed some info from him before I could connect back.

    Btw no need to defend what you say, the post was not directed at you per se. Not my style.

    If it was you I would have said…. Stephen says X and I disagree etc….

  3. JP.

    The point of your post today is: Do we speak about Facebook (or any other web 2.0 product) without have even tried?

    No need to go on the subject on personal policies for responding to contacts.

    Coming back to your original point. I share your suspicion. I think most bloggers have not tried many of the products they talk with arrogance.

    We talk too much. Are we becoming “dialectics” as the ancient Greeks?

    Mario Ruiz

  4. I know it is late to say this but I thought your suggestion of using it for induction was a really, really good insight. One of those aha moments that genuinely surprised me.

    As a professional developer I am always struggling with the concepts of labels and paths. Choosing the right labels (and categories) I have found to be crucial for acceptance and understanding. Even small variations can make a big difference. (And anyone who reads philosophy will know the central role that semantics plays)

    My point is that for some people the labels used in Facebook may be the problem. Considering its origins and core audience they are highly appropriate. I think people outside that core audience have difficulty with the semantics and this explains the varied reaction.

    Having mentioned philosophy I am going right off topic. A marvellous source for philosophic enquiry is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    I mention them here because I think they have found a very good model for academic publishing on the Web, marrying freedom and open access with the rigorous discipline of peer review.

    Academic publishing is a field where the Web is not just a disruptive technology, it is probably life threatening if, as I think, the Stanford model takes hold.

  5. Here’s another one…

    YAFA: Tried the whole social network thing, with accounts on Friendster, Orkut, and LinkedIn. Doesn’t use them much and doesn’t want to throw more account-maintaining time down the rat hole.

  6. JP, I tried to recover the exchange but without success. I find it frustrating that a lot of these blog search engines don’t bother to index the comment content! On the other hand I find I prefer having my electronic mail address concealed. It is not that hard to find, but it requires a bit of conscious effort. That seems to be just enough screening to keep me happy!

  7. Stephen,

    I believe it was Mario Ruiz who contacted me via the blog; I had a problem identifying him in Facebook (because there were many Mario Ruizes) and so I “spoke” to him via the blog in order to identify him uniquely. That has since been done, and we are connected in Facebook.

    BTW there are 5 Smoliars in Facebook, the same number as in LinkedIn.

  8. Plame put you on face book, so go figure what it is. As far as “dialectics” those were on Dr.WHO.

  9. I bailed on LinkedIn a little over a year ago. I got a bizarre error message while trying to do a search, and kept running into the same problem over the course of a week or two. This led to my eventually figuring out how to report the problem (which, as I recall, was no easy matter.) I reported the problem on May 19 and heard nothing until June 2! The reply I received was basically content-free. That was when I requested to be removed from the system!

    I think there is a lesson here: Any damned fool can set up a network with software for bringing in new members. This is a pretty straightforward product offering (and we have a good idea of how many products are currently offered). However, MAINTAINING the network and FACILITATING how people use it is more of a service offering; and that service is not offered by the current product providers. When I find a site that has a better understanding of this difference, I shall probably be more inclined to experiment with it!

    Finally, you probably found the same Smoliars I found through Google. Most of them are relatives. One of these days I shall pursue my curiosity over the one’s who aren’t!

  10. “It often happens, with regard to new inventions, that one part of the general public finds them useless and another part considers them to be impossible.

    When it becomes clear that the possibility and the usefulness can no longer be denied, most agree that the whole thing was fairly easy to discover and that they knew [it] was significant.”

    – Abraham Niclas Clewberg-Edelcrantz

  11. Love the quote, Steve. Now I have a new problem. I need to figure out who Abraham Niclas Clewberg-Edlecrantz was. I had never heard of him before your reference. What I can find out about him seems sparse.

  12. Edlecrantz was an innovator (or one of them) of the optical telegraph
    I came across him whilst reading the “myths of innovation” which led to “what is history” and the “history of 3M” a fascinating look at innovation in a company that effectively made sandpaper and probably the company that invented 15% time (google just gave employees an extra 5% :) Theres a free pdf on the 3m website if you get some time to read it
    btw: am just back from hols and checked my facebook inbox – will have a look this week.

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