[asynchronous peek-a-boo with Dad by TaranRampersad]
Yesterday's Facebook announcement was a way exciting occasion, marking, I believe, a new era. For those of you who didn't catch the news, Facebook has opened up itself as a platform so that anyone can take advantage of (what Mark Zuckerberg called) the "social graph", the network of real connections through which people communicate and share information, and build applications that run inside and outside of Facebook, including the ability to make $$ (Facebook will even handle the payment processing for no charge!). Pretty powerful, seeing that there are 24 million quite active users (50% log in daily...that's pretty significant).
As I sat in the audience listening to Zuckerberg talk, it unfolded to look like a less 'Everything is Miscellaneous' version of the internet itself. Facebook is making an internet inside of the internet...a kinder, gentler, more secure version. The 'Tidy Web' as Biz Stone coined in a subsequent conversation. Surely everyone still has the ability to function in the wild, wild west version (the world wider web), but can now seek refuge in the less spammy, privacy enabled, benevolently regulated Facebook version.
This is the smartest move I've seen a web company make in a long time...plus, if Facebook keeps their grassroots approach to the world (a la Zuckerberg) and doesn't get too cozy with the companies launching in Facebook, they could create the most utopic world online.
But something struck me as particularly funny during Zuckerberg's address: the construction of this "social graph".
The description of the social graph (the true 'platform' - not the technology, itself) was charmingly geek. From what I understood, Zuckerberg described this world of Facebook as a way to scale relationships and make them much more efficient. I turned to the people beside me and laughed, "Finally! Exactly what I needed! More efficient relationships!"
But Chris gave me push back, "Well, yeah. How many friends do you have on each social network?"
And he is right.
And, no, not all of these contacts are truly "friends", but the connection to each and every one of them serves some sort of purpose, even if it is only to put that person in my virtual rolodex for a day in the future when I may need to make a deeper connection. This is our currently most reliable measure of social capital, a growing and REAL asset for people in today's economy. Some connections are more 'valuable' than others, of course. I can tell a Facebook connection is worth more for my particular group than the MySpace connections were, as I imported my gmail account last night and added a few people I only exchanged brief emails with a while back, who took extra care to clarify our 'connection' before accepting my friend request. I get fewer 'random friendings' on Facebook than I got on MySpace. My theory is that screen that says, "How do you know this person?" creates a deeper thought process into who you collect as 'friends'.
Mark Zuckerberg promoted the idea of a-synchronicity: "Sure, you could pick up the phone or meet in person, but we don't have time to do that with everyone of our friends anymore. A-synchronous communication makes it more efficient to keep in touch."
I think about my own behaviour around this phenomenon. I prefer texting to talking on the phone. I spend way more time answering emails than I do sitting down for coffees. I know I WANT to spend more QT with people in my life, but with a growing social network, I have a difficult time keeping up. With each project that I add to my plate, I add new, interesting, fantastic peeps who I can't build deeper relationships with because I'm stretched so thin already. I do have much deeper highly offline-maintained relationships, but I can count those on one hand these days. Even my brother and I found ourselves re-connecting better after he joined Facebook.
Is this bad or good? I don't know. I do know that, en masse, it's happening. And it seems to me that no amount of lamenting over what we've lost or creating dichotomous camps of geeks vs. neo-luddites is going to change the propulsion forward with this a-synchronous world.
It's change. And with change, there are as many downsides as upsides. Clay Shirky described this on a panel at the Personal Democracy Forum. It isn't old vs. new. It isn't black or white. It's a whole lotta grey. Personally, I think the downside of 'efficient relationships' will be miniscule compared to the upside of my growing social capital and global connections.
Times are a-changing and Facebook is smart enough to lead it forward. It doesn't mean that they'll 'win' or be on top forever, but yesterday's announcement surely gave them a most advantageous position to lead. Smart. I look forward to watching the rest of the story unfold.