Friday, January 2, 2009

Prediction: Barring Any Change, Facebook Will Fossilize

Over the past few months, I admit, I've become a frequent user of Facebook. It's a fun, useful site that enables you to easily connect with friends and get an occasional glimpse into their lives, while also letting others into your world, one chunk at a time.

I never really got into MySpace because I felt there was just too much going on and it was more designed for kids to use or it was too corporate or something. Facebook is a lot cleaner and more straightforward. And it seems like others agree with me because I don't know anybody who uses MySpace anymore.

But interestingly, the same benefits that Facebook has over MySpace may actually become Facebook's downfall.

For starters, when I think of Facebook now, even though I still do use it, I can't help but often think about the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza's wife becomes friends with George's friends Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer. In other words-- "worlds collided."

The easy accessibility of Facebook means that your network of "friends" can grow, perhaps not in an exponential manner, but certainly to an unmanageable level. What happens is that you start off becoming friends with the people you are closest to in your real life. And then a friend of a friend wants to be your friend. And then a kid you knew in middle school who you hardly talked to wants to friend you. And then your parents start an account and want to see what's going on in your life. And then your co-workers. And then people you don't even know, who just want to rack up more friends than other people. And then all of a sudden you have 500 people on your friends list, and anything you post becomes virtually public knowledge.

So what does this all mean? It means you either have to be a person who really has nothing to hide in life and doesn't mind sharing everyday experiences with the world. Or, in reflection of Shakespeare's famous line-- "All the world's a stage... and one man in his time plays many parts." Meaning: different people know you in different ways... can you truly be "one person" to everybody when they can see everything that you post?

This makes you think... do I REALLY want to post that photo of me passed out at the party?" Or, similarly, "what if my friend posts a photo of me passed out at the party, and my boss sees it?" To quote another famous writer, "Big Brother is watching you," is what it can feel like when using Facebook, as any reader of George Orwell's "1984" can attest.

So here you have a personal limitation in what you can say-- though of course you have the other choice of denying a friend request so somebody does not get let into your world, which makes it look like you really do have something to hide. Ultimately, you have to make a lot of decisions about what you write, unless you really have nothing to lose by posting it, whether in your mind or in reality. After a while, I think people will tire of having to make these types of decisions.

The other issue at hand is that of advertising on the site. Big Brother is indeed watching you on Facebook... even if it is Big Brother of the Marketing World. I think nothing says this more than when you go to sign up for an application and you get this message:

"Allowing (name of application) access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends' info, and other content that it requires to work. Allow or Canel"

Ok, if that doesn't make you wonder about things, then I don't know what does.

So then, let's say you agree to allow access to this application, and let's say that you take part in a game application. Well, the game, being free, is advertising supported, so you're getting hammered with ads everytime you play the game. Oy!

To top it off, each Facebook user will have different pay per click ads hovering on screen anywhere within Facebook, and each ad is tailored to things that you have a tendency to like. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it tracks the sites you go to and homes in on hitting you up with ads for similar sites. On one hand, yes, this is good marketing (reach out only to the people who are inclined to like your product, rather than wasting money on people who are less inclined), but on the other hand, it feels, well, a little creepy.

As a Facebook user, I'm not sure how long I will be able to put up with these downfalls of the site. It's possible I will just overlook them and enjoy the site's functionality. Or, I, along with others, may just ditch the site altogether like has happened with MySpace, due to getting burned out by the constant ads, or the milktoast conversation that ensues due to not wanting to give away too much info about myself to my world of "friends."

Now let me go search around on Facebook and see what kind of shenanigans my boss is up to...

No comments: