Facing Facebook

I have joined the thousands or so netizens who are playing around with Facebook these days. There is something very compelling about this environment, and it’s worthwhile to ask what exactly makes it so compelling. First, of course, there are the people. But compare this to Xing, for example. Xing also has the people, but Xing is work life and bureaucracy, Facebook is hanging out. Xing is dead meat.

On Facebook you are primarily showing your leisure time persona. Look, here are my party pics, here are the books and movies I like. And hey, I’m happy today! There is something very adolescently soothing in this: I’m defined by all these attributes: My playlists, my pics, my emoticons. (As if any of these mattered!) Whoo, look what a cool guy I am!

So, the people on Facebook are not primarily potential employers, contractors, nuisance. They are just those nice people I want to meet in the lobby, at the dinner table, in the bar. I might talk business with them, but then I might as well not. Probably not.

People on Facebook are My Big Audience. And my Facebook home page is my stage and living room. Its my living room made my stage. I can show off my book shelf and my CD rack, I can offer gifts and drinks. I sport light-hearted, easy-going conversation. Now that’s a place to stay!

Of course the killer application on Facebook are the groups. Groups provide the serious benefit. They are the value adding superstructure on the sweety-pie chitty-chatty communicational groundwork that defines Facebook.

Will this work out in the long run? Groups are what might make Facebook last. But still I’ve got my serious doubts, mostly because the applications are not good enough. It’s Yahoo! all over again. Everything is there, but it’s not really state of the art. Why should I bother to feed my 350 DVDs into some Facebook app when I cannot use the resulting database in any serious way? Of course, the applications will evolve over time. But then, we are all impatient. Until Facebook has matured, somebody else will have given us a nicer toy to play with.

(Somebody who knows a little more about online communities than I do has similar doubts.)