Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Notes on Facebook

Facebook is one of the social networking sites, bringing together "friends" in linked networks. In its original American form to join users had to be part of an institiution of higher education (which provided the primary network), being described as student, alumni, faculty or staff members. At the present time joiners to facebook are allowed to join networks based on schools, colleges, workplaces and regions. In the UK in May there were 1.4 million active users. Once in a network (and you can join up to five) users can form interest groups, creating networks within networks just like in the real world. What we do in cyberspace reflects what we do in meatspace.

Facebook is addictive.
Once users enter the world of Facebook it is not long before the word addiction slips into our conversations. Facebook does not facilitate work, it gets in the way. When we should be working we're checking on where our friends are, what they've done,whether they're online, what applications they've installed.

Facebook illuminates the actions of ones friends, it displays personal information about them that is difficult to ignore. By nature inquisitive, we want to know as much as we can about our "friends", colleagues or family both on and off line. Non users of facebook when shown the site almost immediately ask "Is person x on facebook? Search for him / her. Show me their profile"
Facebook feeds the voyeur in us.

Facebook teaches us about our friends, yet we only get to observe what our friends want us to see. Facebook is one giant coffee table book. Users construct their profiles carefully, knowing that friends will read them with equal care. The choices made in profiles may tell us less about what they are and more about what they might wish us to think they are. Reader beware.
Facebook feeds the exhibitionist in us.

During the last few months Facebook has developed in two areas. Firstly membership is now open to school and college students aged between 13 and 18, and to anyone else anywhere with an email address. This provides Facebook with a new user base. While many current users of Facebook lament this, it makes commercial sense. Secondly, Facebook has opened the Facebook platform to third party developers without revenue sharing. Facebook has therefore become an application progamming interface within a closed social network.

Its easy to see the advantages of this for Facebook, for the third party developers, for the advertisers and at first glance for the users. Imagine Facebook.com as your homepage, the start point of all your on line activity, links to all your favourite applications, news feeds etc. etc.......

But Facebook is a closed system, to use it you have to be in it. Not much comes out of Facebook, the curiously named news feed won't feed my favourite news reader. While Facebook Platform makes it possible to access Google from within Facebook, you can see out but Google's bots can't see you.

Why is that?

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