American in Spain

What's the point of Facebook?

December 15, 2007
Facebook Exclamation

Many of you already know that I signed up for Facebook the other day. Several people have shown their surprise that it took me so long to jack into the matrix. I'm still learning about it, but so far I'm impressed. I've heard it called "MySpace done right", and I have to agree to some extent. But what's the point of these social networking sites? The best argument I've seen so far was in a July blog entry by Paul Phillips.

It's pathetic that when my contact information changes, there's still no simple way for me to change it one place and expect the people I know to be able to find my phone number. There was/is a company called Plaxo that tried to address that but who they faced the giant chicken-and-egg problem that everybody does; unless most everyone uses and knows about plaxo, it's of little use. But Facebook has thirty million users and is signing up 100,000 a day. Mission mostly accomplished.

At the very minimum there is some value in that. I have my contact information entered and I control who can see it. If my mobile number changes, I change it in my Facebook profile and everyone I care about gets an update.

Another value I immediately notice is that it serves as sort of a "blogging light" platform where people that don't have the time, energy, interest, or technical savvy to maintain a real blog can easily post updates about what they're up to and the people that care about them can check up with them.

The other ingenious idea that is causing Facebook to succeed is that they have a public API that allows anyone to write applications that can use the social networking structure of Facebook to do interesting things. Writing one of those goes on the enormous "if I had the time" pile of my interests.

How much I will use it remains to be seen, but I decided it was worth signing up if only for the address book sharing system that it provides. My profile is here, but they cleverly make it so that you have to sign up to see anyone's profile. And even then you can only see the profiles of your friends or other people in your geographical region.

So anyway, for any of my readers who are not yet plugged into the hive mind, I would recommend that you spend 15 minutes giving it a try. At the very least it's interesting to see how old people you knew in high school look now.

P.S. Can one of you seasoned 'bookers explain WTF "poking" is all about?