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ISBS Review: Facebook

By Brian | June 1, 2009 | Share on Facebook

As some of my readers are aware, I have been resisting joining the two newest social networking trends – Facebook and Twitter – for quite some time now. Twitter has been easier to avoid (only a couple of my friends use it, and given that SEC regulations prohibit me from using it in the office, I wouldn’t be much of a “tweeter” for most of the day anyway). Facebook, on the other hand, has been hounding me. It started with the “Hey – you’ve got to join” e-mails, and then moved on to the “click <Facebook link> to see this great picture of my kids” and the “that reminds me of that awesome story I read on Joe’s Facebook page” messages. Still, I resisted.

Then, my friend Adam (2,200+ Facebook friends) came to visit for the Memorial Day Weekend, and actually stood behind me while I signed up. Since yesterday was the one-week mark, I figure I’m now able to offer an objective, dispassionate review of this mega-app phenomenon.

First, the positive: I get it. I get why Facebook is so popular. First of all, it has managed to reach and surpass critical mass. Seriously – everyone you’ve ever known in your life is on Facebook. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it’s constantly spitting out things to do or talk about with all these new-found connections. There is an endless series of online games, polls, surveys and trivia contests that automatically post their results to your “Wall,” where your “friends” can see them, comment on them or try their own hand at them and then compare. It’s like the world’s most awesome high school reunion, where rather than just standing in the room and marvelling at all the people you used to know, there’s someone constantly walking around and providing you with “get re-acquainted” activities so you never get bored. Think of it as your own personal reality show, starring everyone you’ve ever known. Very cool.

The other very positive thing is photo tagging. Facebook allows you to post pictures online, and then identify other Facebook users that are in the photos. This sounds innocuous at first, until you realize that when one of your “friends” is tagged in a photo, that entire photo album becomes available for your perusal, giving you an insight into how your “friend” spends time with his/her other “friends” (Facebook or actual, as the case may be). A guy I work with has a college-aged son, who was tagged by one of his classmates in a picture from an on-campus party. Within minutes, his parents (who are on his Facebook “friends” list) were perusing his classmates’ pictures of him at the party, and inquiring about everything from the female party-goers to the contents of that cup he was holding. As it turns out, Big Brother is indeed watching, and we’ve given him permission to do so. Go figure…

Which leads me to a word of caution: if you let it, this thing can literally take over your life. The other day, I guy I knew in high school (and have seen exactly once in the past twenty years) announced to all his “friends” that when he showered that morning, he forgot to wash his hair, and had to go back into the shower to do so. Now, it occurs to me that he and I have both managed to live without this kind of detailed accounting of each other’s lives for the past twenty years, but if we’re not careful, we’ll spend the next twenty fully informed about them. Take that level of detail and multiply it by the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of “friends” who can fill you in on such details at any given moment, and you start to see how just keeping up with the gossip can become a full-time job. Unlike my other message queues (e-mail, RSS feeds, blog comments, etc.), I have resolved not to try and keep up with every “unread” message, choosing instead to scan whatever pops to the top of the stack whenever I logon, picking up interesting tidbits like the above at random and responding in kind. This strategy, I think, will persist Facebook as an interesting diversion, rather than a way of life.

Moving on to some outright criticisms: there are a lot of technical bugs in this application. Search boxes often don’t return the correct results. Links that say things like “This group has 52 members” will yield a list of less than 52 people. Features like YouTube integration or Flickr integration simply don’t work. And some things which should be very easy to find are either buried or completely unavailable. With all the recent investment in the platform, and the gobs of advertising revenue they must be generating, I’m very surprised that they’ve been so sloppy with their technology. Friends of mine that are long-time users tell me that it was better before the recent “upgrade,” which very well may be true. If that’s the case, though, then the upgrade broke quite a number of things. I’ll keep an eye out for future upgrades.

Finally, some statistics: I approached Facebook as a kind of personal, social experiment. I “friended” just 10 people: two former business colleagues, six college alums with whom I’m still connected (including Adam, from above), and one friend from high school, and then waited to see what would happen. In the ensuing seven days, thirty-nine people “found” me, one way or another, and requested “friend” status as well. Six wrote messages on my “wall,” eleven sent me personal messages, and twenty-eight commented on something I wrote or on something that I had also commented on.

(NOTE: Statistics like the above are one of the things sorely missing from Facebook – I generated these numbers by cutting/pasting my Outlook e-mail queue from Facebook into Excel and then running my own analysis)

Over those seven days, I came across dozens of people who I recognized, but I resisted the urge to “friend” them, preferring to see what would happen organically. In the coming days, I plan to review each of my friends’ friendlists, and request “friend” status from the people I know, as well as “friending” anyone who I happen to come across in my travels who’d I’d like to connect with. It will be interesting to see if my receive/send ratio stays at 4-1 once I start actively pinging people.

Bottom line: I’m glad I joined, but will need to exhibit some rarely-seen self-control to avoid becoming a Facebook junkie. Which, I suppose, is exactly how the folks at Facebook want it to be.

Topics: Tech Talk | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “ISBS Review: Facebook”

  1. Ilya says at June 3rd, 2009 at 7:15 am :
    I’m blocked from Facebook at the office, interestingly.

    I joined a long time ago, but I view it solely as having another channel to be reachable. I don’t login unless I have an email notification, do not initiate any “friending” and pretty much ignore the ticker tape of happenings from people I friended. I suppose I’m as close to a “non-user” as a user can be.

  2. Brian says at June 3rd, 2009 at 9:51 am :
    Ilya – I understand completely. For now, I’m findng the “ticker tape” (excellent term for it, by the way) mildly entertaining, but I can easily see a time coming when I only go to the site when beckoned, as you do.

    That said, I’ll drop you a “friend” request tonight, since you’ve just told me that putting you on my list won’t be increasing my ticker tape at all…

    (As if I need yet another way to get in touch with you, right?)

  3. Jeff Porten says at June 6th, 2009 at 1:46 am :
    I think I said this to you offline, but the main value of Facebook and Twitter is that it’s an extremely low-cost, low-attention way of keeping a large number of people on your mental radar. The trick to both, as you’ve found, is to think of it as a stream of data that you dip into from time to time, rather than something that you “track” and “catch up on”. It’s a serendipitous data flow, so you get out of it based on how much attention you choose to give it.

    That said, I think anyone who gets into the applications and quizzes there is batshit insane. Aside from the massive time sink, some of those apps are used to data-mine you and your friends. Came out last month that the “Which city are you?” quizzes are used to sell you insurance and other stuff. Not good if not advertised as such.

    Don’t bother going through my friend list — I already recommended everyone I think you know. (And usually, I don’t bother doing that, but in your case I thought you’d appreciate the bootstrap.)

  4. FamilyGreenberg.Com - Linking WordPress to Facebook – My non-ideal solution says at June 21st, 2009 at 3:01 am :
    [...] first step was Facebook’s built-in RSS reader. Unlike a lot of things in Facebook, this works as advertised. Trouble is, it doesn’t provide a link to the blog post. Rather, it [...]

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