I’ve been listening to an excellent BBC radio series called “The Secret History of Social Networking” – and reviewed the first in the three-part series about three weeks ago. I got the chance to listen to the other two parts on a podcast the other day – and both were gems. The podcasts are available internationally – so do follow the link at the bottom of the last post to load up to your iPod or listen on-line.
There were two different quotes in the interviews by Rory Cellen-Jones that struck me. The first was from John Perry Barlow. In the 80s John was on the board of the prototypical social network, The Well, and continues to be a respected commentator. In answer to Rory’s question about Facebook he said:
I think that it has enough of the characteristics of group connectivity that it seems to be fulfilling that need in the same way that treacle can make your appetite go away so that you don’t go out and eat your broccoli. It’s the white sugar substitute for the brown rice nutrition that real community might be able to provide you.
Wow – that’s powerful stuff. The analogy with fast food and wholesome nutrition is particularly thought provoking – especially when I see the time spent on Facebook in my household (and by the stats available on-line)
Also, in the programme was an interview with Chris Cox, one of the “Inner Circle” at Facebook. He was asked about how Facebook had gained popularity and overtaken the likes of Beebo and MySpace. Rory placed Chris, at this time in 2006, as being “connected with every Facebook innovation – all of which were hated”. He asked Chris – “what was the worst single reaction to any change.” Chris immediately said “Newsfeed”:
Before Newsfeed your home page just said ‘you have 2 new messages – go look at your profile.’ And afterwards it was a story line, it was literally a newspaper of what people were saying and what photos they were posting. … Nobody liked it. I remember my entire inbox being full. Personal messages from friends and family ‘can you please turn this thing off – we all hate it’.
When asked why Facebook had persevered with this controversial feature, Chris said:
The usage told us people were fascinated. But getting through these first few days…. You just need to have your own vision and need to be willing to stick to it in the face of criticism.
I love the entrepreneurial drive to see changes like this through in the face of negative customer feedback. Interesting that the guys at Facebook could read the numbers – the usage – and understand the addictiveness of the Newsfeed!
One of the best commentators on the dynamics of Social Networking (and Personal Networks) is Paul Adams. He has been featured on this blog before. He was a key User Experience guy for Google – and is just about to take up a post at Facebook. On his personal blog, he’s just posted an excellent commentary called “The Problem with On-Line Reputation”. In it he states:-
As with most people problems, I feel the roots of the solution lie offline. From our ongoing face to face interactions, we learn who is knowledgeable, who to turn to for an informed opinion, who is likely to say it like it is, and who has hidden agendas. There is no substitute for that. Reputation is built conversation by conversation at the desks, halls, cafes and meeting rooms of businesses all around the world.
I’m feeling that in the long run, the “quick hit” of Facebook will backfire. Who fancies putting down that “junk food” for a minute and treating yourself to some more nutritious “brown rice” …..face-to-face??
I have created a LinkedIn Poll called “Is Facebook the ‘McDonalds’ of your Personal Network?” – my last poll “If LinkedIn closed down – would you REALLY miss it?” has had over 1400 votes in a week.
Please go and vote, add comments – and do tell you friends (via Facebook – or face-to-face!).