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Facebook will win

“Facebook is my pick for the social networking site that will still be thriving in five years when MySpace and Bebo and Hi5 and all have succumbed.” – me, June 4, 2007*

You almost can’t surf the interwebz these days without coming across the Facebook backlash. It’s a deserved backlash – Facebook, seemingly under the direct guidance of its founder Mark Zuckerberg, has been playing fast and loose with the data of its users, and doing its best to keep users unaware of what it was up to.

So I have several friends who’ve quit Facebook entirely recently, and anti-Facebook links are enthusiastically circulated. (Including this great tool that scans your Facebook privacy settings for you.)

It kinda seems like the end of days for Facebook; or at the least, the beginning of the end. (Or maybe the middle of the end, with Twitter as the beginning of the end.)

But you know what? Facebook isn’t going anywhere. All of this activity I’m seeing, and you’re probably seeing too if you’re reading this, is just a storm in a teacup. Clamber out of the teacup and check out the rest of the table, and you’ll see it’s not stormy at all out there.

Here are the three reasons why Facebook is going to keep trucking on:

1. Sharing photos and holding events
Facebook *owns* the event-coordination space. You can manage invitations and details and everything right there in one spot, and then you can share the photos you took! For the past year, people not on Facebook will have noticed that they are starting to get forgotten – they’ll only hear about events afterwards, in passing. Facebook’s fighting it out with Flickr and Picasa for photo-sharing too, and my guess is it’s winning – Flickr and Picasa are where people who care about images go, but for people who just want to show pics of their friends to those same friends, why would you step outside Facebook’s door?

2. Farmville
Wiki says: “Since its launch in June 2009, FarmVille has become the most popular game application on Facebook, with over 82.4 million active users and over 23.9 million Facebook application fans in May 2010. The total FarmVille users are over 20% of the users of Facebook and over 1% of the population of the world.”

The number of people who love to play Farmville is several orders of magnitude greater than all those who care about online privacy. These people are going nowhere.

3. Where do I log in? I can’t find where I log in.
If you never read about the “where do I log in?” meme, you really should. Find it here. Basic lesson: a significant chunk of internet users fundamentally don’t understand what they are doing online. These people want to log into Facebook. Arcane privacy concerns will not play to this audience at all.

So: Zuckerberg is right. Facebook can do what it wants to privacy settings and it will still triumph.

It makes me wonder, what would force change? I dunno about this. Three guesses, though:
* making it personal – if some aspect of this argument really gets to Zuckerberg himself, then he could lead a major change. I don’t know what it would take to reach the guy, though, he seems quite impervious to any outside agument.
* making it legal – get the U.S. govt involved (no other govt will do) and even the biggest internet website will have to play along. But how to raise that behemoth in a way that works to the good, and not the randomly destructive?
* stoking fear – the only thing that will get users off Facebook (apart from a competitor who can make a good show and stick around a long time to soak up users) is fear. People would ditch Facebook because of fear. These fears would have to be primal and probably irrational. I don’t know where they might come from. That would work.

So I guess I’m expecting Facebook to stick around, and to be honest I’m not too worried about that. I hope the backlash does make some major changes in how Facebook does what it does, but its fundamental service – photos and events – works well for me. I dip into the stream of chatter from my friends about once a week and that’s always quite fun. As far as I’m concerned, it can stay.

That said, I’m still waiting for the integration of Facebook social networking with mobile devices (iPhone et al.) Twitter has scored big with its comfortable fit on the mobile platform, but an integrated Facebook-as-cellphone-OS can’t be far away now, and once that (or its open-protocol relative) hits, there’s no going back – next stop, mirrorshades.

*I got it wrong – it only took two years for MySpace, Bebo and Hi5 to fall.

{ 14 } Comments

  1. Gator | May 25, 2010 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    Actually, MySpace is still big in the south….seriously.

  2. Dan Rabarts | May 25, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Just a note in regards to your last comment: there’s an App for that. You can download a Facebook App for the iPhone or iPod Touch which is optimised for the small screen. It doesn’t have quite the same degree of functionality as the site itself, but it can do everything it needs to do.

    I’m on the fence about FB myself right now, but I’ve had no overwhelming urge to dump it just yet. The comments and friend requests I get from total strangers are disquieting, as are the messages I receive from groups which I haven’t joined, messages sent to “members of Group XYZ”, but I can cope with that. That’s what the delete button is for, and our innate human ability to ignore things that don’t interest us.

  3. samm | May 25, 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    How are your privacy settings set up Dan? You can eliminate those things by playing with your profile settings.

    My take on this is that while yes facebook hasn’t been playing with a straight bat at times, the fundamental principle remains that ultimately all interent users are responsible for what they put on it. The internet is as private as you make it. I agree that the majority (and I would say an ever increasing proportion) of FB users have little or no understanding of how the internet as a whole works. I know a few people personally in this category; they demonstrably just don’t get it. I was a late adopter of facebook (joined late 2007 ish) but have always periodically checked and tweaked my privacy settings from day one, and never posted anything I wouldn’t share with a room full of complete strangers. I read some peoples profiles and cringe at the lack of nous in what they post.
    I think a large part of the current backlash about privacy is regarding a perception more than reality; some have genuine and real concerns, and a whole lot of others are jumping on the bandwagon without any real understanding of the issues. Since I don’t consider the internet to be a private place anyway, don’t spend a huge amount of time on facebook nor play farmville or any other app besides lexulous and noggin I am a bit meh about the whole issue.

    My take on the RWW facepalm debacle here FWIW: http://offblack.blogspot.com/2010/02/google-zombies.html

  4. morgue | May 25, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Gator: yeah, MySpace still has some outposts. Prevalence of social networking apps is heavily tied to geography – what’s big in Brazil is not what’s big in Germany. But my estimate is that MySpace is sinking fast. A lot of bands and musicians still use it as a primary site, but it doesn’t offer enough to survive against Facebook.

    Dan: the iPhone crowd can Facebook really easily, sure, but I’m really interested about when Facebook (or its descendant/competitor) *become* the iPhone. Your Facebook contacts list will be one and the same as your cellphone contacts list, etc. It isn’t a phone that does Facebook, but a mobile Facebook that does other stuff too. Once that kicks in then network connectivity goes up another level, and whole new kinds of social activity become possible – real-time reputation management, real-world tagging, a social cyberspace overlay on physical reality – this stuff is five years away, if that.

  5. Ivan | May 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    “For the past year, people not on Facebook will have noticed that they are starting to get forgotten.” Seriously? People leave their friends out of stuff just because they’re not on Facebook? That’s awful. Shouldn’t Facebook be a way to stay in touch with your friends, not an entry requirement for friendship or a method of excluding them?

  6. morgue | May 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Ivan: seriously, but out of carelessness not malice. People hold an event and send out an invite to their facebook friends, and call it job done. Sometimes they’ll remember “oh! John isn’t on Facebook, I’ll send them a text” but other times, no.

  7. Sam | May 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I think Facebook’s event managment is lacking.
    I still can’t view it in a calendar format with highlighting for different stuff.

    Sure it’s great for inviting people to stuff, but I hate having to view the event list in its terrible format.
    They have a calendar page as the icon for it, but no calendar view!

  8. Matt | May 25, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    The Kids at School are still using/talking about Bebo. “That dude’s a douche. Did you see what he wrote on his bebo? Like, OMG. Whatever!”

    Srsly.

  9. michael | May 25, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Weird how much FB is a giant version of the SCFBBS.

    That Facebook login meme is amazing. Hadn’t heard about it.

    Y’all seen http://www.youropenbook.org ? Demonstrates what your privacy settings cannot control. Ultimately in this regard I do agree with sammmmm but think it’s a dick move on FB’s part as well.

    I left FB because I wasted so much fucking time on it.

  10. Svend | May 25, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    The fact that most successful MMOs have elements of grind in them certainly suggests that Farmville won’t be going away any time soon.

    I’m quite interested in whether Diaspora will get any traction; I suspect that the only way that they’ll get momentum is if they work out a way to pull stuff from Facebook/Buzz/etc, and present it in one place, so that you don’t care if you are leaving your friends behind. Since it’s an open source project, and screen scraping is not that hard, it doesn’t seem impossible… though it’s probably forbidden in Facebook’s T&Cs.

  11. morgue | May 25, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Matt: Bebo was always strong with NZ’s school generation, but it’s walking wounded. e.g. http://www.onlinesocialmedia.net/20100412/bebo-closing-down-rumors-what-will-happen-to-content/

    samm: yeah, I’m kinda in the same tank, but I think there’s a social responsibility angle on Facebook to do better. like Michael says, dick move.

    sam: Facebook has much that sucks, but also much less that sucks than its competitors.

    svend: yeah, exactly. diaspora would be great to win, but I can’t see how they pull it off just now. i’m sure they have a plan though. hope it’s a good one.

    michael: yes, exactly. I reckon the aura of FB is like the scfbbs – heavily social, in other words. I also kinda see it as the new version of the 90s web portal idea – the best bits of the portal idea without any of the naff.

  12. billy | May 26, 2010 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    As I noted back here (http://undulatingungulate.com/2010/02/25/social-media-and-attention/ , complete with handy infographic), the BRIC aren’t using Facebook. I keep meaning to sign up to those other systems just to see what they are. But whatever the hell they are doing is at least as relevant to how things develop as what is happening in the West.

    And in general in that post, the gist is I think we are nowhere near working out what we want our social media to do, and how we want it to do it… the battles about Facebook and privacy etc matter precisely because most people have no fucking clue, and the danger is being stuck with an Orwellian abomination in several years.

  13. Pearce | May 26, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I think Billy’s on the money when he says that we don’t really know yet what we want from social media yet. I think we’ll be feeling our way in the dark for a while – people generally have a better idea of what they DON’T want, and once we cross out enough options we’ll start focusing on what we DO want.

    I don’t see us being “stuck with an Orwellian abomination” though. I can see the Orwellian abomination part, but there’s no reason why we’ll have to be stuck with it – after a couple of the aforementioned disasters people will start flocking to a newer, better option.

  14. china shop | May 26, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Facebook *owns* the event-coordination space.

    And I can’t say how much I hate that that space is owned by a site that you have to register with before you can view content. Especially for political events, it needs to be open access. Bah!

    /has not Facebooked; will not Facebook