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!).
As usual (I’m an old Wired reader) I agree with Barlow. Just as I’ll eat fast food if the alternative is hunger, I’ll use Facebook if the alternative is losing contact with the people I value. Lately, though, it seems I’m getting sucked into its junk food grip and sliding a little on the health-food human connections I value more.
I couldn’t find that answer on the poll. I don’t hate Facebook, I don’t love it. I don’t think it’s okay any more than I think junk food or mindless television is okay.
>>Lately, though, it seems I’m getting sucked into its junk food grip and sliding a little on the health-food human connections I value more.
Maybe that’s why I wrote this. I was a Twitter cynic – but now a fan. Maybe I’m going to spend some proper time on Facebook one day – and REALLY love it!!
Seriously, it is about the balance of all these things. Looking forward to the feedback (with fries!)
Regarding Adams’ comment: I firmly believe that we should make real connections, deep strong ties. I also believe that can be done online, not only in person. In person, real life, much better of course. Won’t happen via Facebook at all. But it can happen online.
>>But it can happen online.
Think you are right there. I’m not taking a “pop” at Social Media in general. How else would we have met and started to build a relationship.
Understood completely. Just as food isn’t bad, it’s what we do with it, social media and online conversation can be intense, marvelous, life changing.
It just seems that all of us, some more than others, have a hard time even asking ourselves the questions (is this healthy? is this too much? not enough?) let alone coming up with satisfying answers.
Perhaps someone around here can start a Q&A roundup . . .
Sounds a bit like my obsessive blogging addiction – and replying to comments!! Is that healthy? Am I doing it too much – or not enough? 😉
You’re a natural conversationalist, Phil. Those addictions seem healthy to me!
The fact that I do, indeed, want fries with that—not so much 😉
Love your blogs – I am sure you are going to find something useful coming from this ongoing investigation.
I am old fashioned “face to face” guy (see the programme we offer on our website) and so this reputational stuff built off line very much fits with what we do and with the evidence of what Dunbar says.
Like any new media though the leap for the over 50’s is work out how on-line and off-line work together. For your inner 150 face to face is required but for the others electronic communications & social media are wonderful.
Hi Edward. Thanks for the kind note. Just had a browse around your site – looks great. Really like your lead quote
I think there are a couple of key elements to all this that are often missed.
1. What sort of person are you? The old Myers-Briggs stuff) of what you naturally like to do.
2. What are your REAL objectives – work and life (and preferably merged to just Life).
Then the selection of on-line and off-line media in the right proportion should fall in to place. My gut feel is Pareto works here – 80% with your strong ties (probably 15-50 closest people – not the full Dunbar 150). Then 20% spent with efficient media connecting to much wider groups (maybe 150 for each objective/world in these interconnected times).
Everyone thinks that all the good thinking on Social Media comes out of California – but I’m seeing real energy from Canada and Ireland in particular. What do you think the reason for Ireland is?
Thanks for commenting. P
Ireland? Really? My two favorite places to visit, Canada and Ireland.
Phil, maybe we can arrange some kind of fact-finding trip across both countries. Of course, if it was also a pub-finding mission that wouldn’t break my heart.
I’ll second the question about Ireland. I know about their skyrocket to the digital era, so it’s not surprising, but I’d like to know more about Ireland and social media.