I know I’ve written about Facebook before, but with the recent press about Facebook I thought it important to write about it again. Much of the new fuss is about how Facebook is adapting to its tertiary competition, and keeping up with technological Joneses. Outside of the technologists, and futurists, and venture capitalists who tie their success on finding emerging technologies that will be culturally and economically relevant, the rest of us want something that is going to either make our lives easier, or more comfortable: something to make life better.
So what is the fuss about Facebook, and how is this making our lives better?
Many technologists and emerging technology specialists are going to scream heresy, but the short answer about what Facebook is, is that it is a website: plain and simple. The structure of the systems – the physical way that all of this virtual stuff is put together – is essentially unchanged since its inception. There have been advancements inside the boxes into which all the wires plug, but these are advancements mostly heralded by electrical engineers and computer scientists. The rest of us principally see that we can now watch high definition videos over the web, and that we don’t have to wait so long for a picture to download any more.
As for Facebook, the difference for us is that it is a website where we, the users, have access to the website. When the World Wide Web first exploded into cultural consciousness websites were cumbersome for average users to start, open, update, and maintain: the purview of software developers and computer consultants. As for Facebook, you can do all of the updates from an iPhone, Blackberry, or plain old cell phone.
The difference between websites of old and what is happening today is that the work of computer scientists has allowed users to interact with websites much more easily, and has allowed websites to talk to each other far more easily. That allows a place like Facebook to be a place for users to have a personal webpage that is easily updated with notes, messages to others, pictures, videos, and, oh yeah, there are all sorts of little games and activities that are there for users to use as well.
This thing is a major league time waster. People can spend hours just updating their their pages, and searching Facebook for friends – actual people they know – and chatting with friends. Then there are games and activities ranging from a tool to track the birthdays of your friends, to Scrabble. In one little corner you can see who of your friends is online at that moment. You can see updates of all of the notes and pictures and videos that all of your friends are making, and even see who your friends have as friends.
Some of the Pros are also some of the Cons. You can see what your friends are doing. This is the basis of the news of the week for Facebook: that it is reacting to Twitter. There is a new movement in social networking in sites like Twitter and Facebook, though neither really wants to be known as a website. The movement is in immediate updates to what you are doing at any given moment: life logging as it is called in some circles.
The real benefit, however, through this life logging, and connecting through connections, and finding friends, is just that: finding friends. I have been able to connect with people with whom I lost contact over 20 years ago. Now with some of those people I lost contact for a reason, but there were more than a handful with whom I was so thrilled to reconnect. While 20 plus years have the tendency to lead lives far afield – and there is no desire to get back to a friendship like that which we had 20 years ago – through Facebook’s life logging I can feel a part of their lives again. I can see and read little updates about what they do on a weekly, if not daily basis.
Real followers of emerging technologies have already embraced life logging, and fully use places like Facebook and Twitter. If you look at their Twitter feeds or postings on Facebook (which are often integrated) you see and read these often mundane updates. Things like: So-and-so is in the office, or this person is appalled by the smelly person on the bus, or that guy is having pizza with his son.
Is this such a good thing? Is it too much information? Is it a degradation of privacy?
It’s neither good nor bad. It is just a new twist on an age-old human need to connect.
Without Internet technology people have differing views on how much information is too much information. I happen to be someone who many would consider shares way too much information. That’s fine with me. I see it as having nothing to hide. Others may want to keep personal information very private, and I absolutely respect that. There are even going to followers of emerging technologies who do not necessarily adopt these new technologies and decide to keep different boundaries around the information they share with others.
With Facebook they have been smart enough to recognize these differences, so there are different filters and levels of privacy that a person can attribute to their page. It’s a great place to just have a personal space to share information: consider it a virtual coffee shop. Understand that others can easily eavesdrop on conversations, and see with whom you are speaking – just like at a coffee shop – and then you might see the posting of personal information on Facebook a little differently. It’s just a new place to connect and stay connected in an era when most of the time we have for connecting with friends is the 15 minutes we have between running children from basketball practice to guitar lessons, but that’s a different consideration.