Why I still use Facebook, and other musings on social networks

I am sometimes bemused by life. Confused even.

Over the last few months it has become ever more fashionable to bash social networks in general, and Facebook in particular; the king is dead, long live the new king, blah blah. Just a few months ago, you couldn’t walk around without bumping into a Facebook conference, you couldn’t read around without bumping into a Facebook article, you couldn’t talk around without bumping into a Facebook conversation.

Such is life. I haven’t stopped using Facebook during all that; I haven’t stopped wanting to build a Facebook for the Enterprise, creating a Behind-The-Firewall set of functions and utilities that can extend Facebook functionality while coexisting with Facebook. And, as far as I can see, there are 60 million other people who haven’t stopped using it. People who largely don’t know any of the critics, people who have been using Facebook since it began. People like my daughter. She doesn’t know about much of the kerfuffle, and doesn’t care.

I can understand her.

You see, I didn’t use Facebook to be cool, to have something to say, to have something to blog about. I went into Facebook because I saw a set of utilities that would help me in my quest for Four Pillars in the Enterprise: Search, Syndication, Fulfilment and Conversation.

So when I saw the wave of pushback against Facebook, I had to ask myself why I continued to use it. And think hard about my answer. And it taught me something about how I felt about social networks. Which is this:

The information that flows through a social network exists in three dimensions. One dimension is time, past, present and future. A second dimension is number, one to many. A third is movement, static to dynamic. When I share my contact details with another person, I am providing static, present, one-to-one information.  When I share what I am intending to do with a whole community, I am providing dynamic, future, one-to-many information.

The motivation to provide information is, at least in part, driven by an expected value of the information coming out of Facebook. And one other thing: the comfort level of providing, to a community, what is essentially private information.

Generation M and their successors are comfortable with sharing their past actions, current state and their future intentions with the community they belong to; they’re comfortable with sharing changes to states and intentions as well. They do this because they believe new value will emerge from that sharing. Collaborative, communal value, shared value.

So why do I use continue to use Facebook?

It’s simple. Because it continues to give me more than the value I used to get from it. Because it continues to give me more than the value I expected when I started using it. Because I can see a way of deriving even more value from it. Particularly as I learn to use tools that augment the Facebook experience, tools like Twitter and Dopplr and even WordPress.

Nothing changed for me. Or my daughter. Or her friends.

That’s all.

6 thoughts on “Why I still use Facebook, and other musings on social networks”

  1. i perfectly understand why one would want to use facebook in an enterprise context: it just models the social patterns of communication there. and it sure ist much better than LinkedIn. still i personally don’t feel at home there: it has also something to do with the overall user experience design.

    one would have to actually use facebook as the homepage to the Web to make it really work, which means replacing the open “small pieces loosely joined” pattern with a much more restricted less-dimensional one. this has advantages, but i don’t really like it. (i still have to hear the your podcast with Weinberger.)

    as an alternative, what about a combination of twitter (for presence clouds and emotional networks), pownce (for interest groups) and MyBlogLog (which is the profile page which i like most)? ok, this would have to be integrated somehow in a Digital Lifestyle Aggregator. and people may not be ready to use this, because they still transfer the old communication paradigms of the “real world” to the Web, instead of doing it the other way round.

    so basically, facebook is an intermediary state in the cultural revolution we are experiencing now. if it succeeds, it will because it does to the Web 2.0 what Microsoft had done to Personal Computing: making it more compatible to traditional concepts of subjectivity, identity, and work. but in the long run, it will be just a dead side-branch of the digital (r)evolution.

  2. Not sure you’re right actually, JP. Check out Google news – it’s full of Facebook stories (thousands and thousands), most of them in the ‘more addictive than crack’ and ‘Facebook is going to change the world’ strain. There are few critical analyses of social networking in a business context.

    As an aside, next month’s Computing Business looks at the business implications of social networking – the potential business benefits / tricky decisions about implementation and prohibition.

    Oh and my objections to Facebook are at an entirely personal level:


    As I posted on one of your comments the other day – am I missing something…?

  3. Facebook as a utility isn’t a problem and your description of the various benefits resonates with me. But the problem is that Facebook’s walled garden limits the potential of what we can do with those benefits. The possibilities are capped. The opportunity (for us as well as Zuckerberg) is passing by. It’s a damned shame!

    The ramifications for any Facebook-in-the-Enterprise initiative are immense, of course; being forced to build anything on Facebook’s dictatorial terms halts any initiative dead in it’s tracks. SOA will gather momentum in 2008 and Facebook is moving in a completely different direction. I’m enamoured by the prospect of something-like-Facebook in the Enterprise, but IMHO it has to be based on open standards to have any chance of success.

    I’d expect your daughter to continue enjoying Facebook for a good while yet, but as her generation gets older and starts caring about things like data portability, the group will start to drift away. Facebook will still have millions of registered users, but this figure won’t reflect the change when it’s taking place.

  4. Can I suggest you ‘Listen again’ or down oad the podcast of last night’s ‘In Business’ on BBC Radion 4. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/inbusiness/inbusiness.shtml.
    It is all about the enterprise use of social networking (and Facebook in particular – have you noticed how Facebook is now the ‘Hoover’ to vacuum cleaning or the ‘Google’ to search?) The comments by Dan Black, Manager of Campus Recruitment for E&Y in the US, are particularly compelling.
    I have been a major fan of Facebook for quite some time now. I have written more articles and given more presentations about it than any other topic in the last year (well, it is rather more interesting than BPO which I guess was my most ‘popular’ subject in the year before ). When I first used Facebook I had very similar feelings as I had back in 1983 when Apple gave me a pre release of Lisa. I knew that most of it was borrowed (nicked?) from others and that this was far from the ‘final product’. But , warts and all, this was the start of the future.
    At each of my presentations, I have asked the audience if they have heard of Facebook and then if they themselves have any social networking profile. I’ve gone from

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