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Friday, January 18, 2008

59 million users can't be right and other thoughts on Facebook

Every day's a good day to talk about Facebook. There is endless chatter online about how big it's going to get, whether it deserves to be big, how much it will sell for, whether it will sell, how safe it is, how big a mistake the Beacon fiasco was, how long it will take for people to lose interest in being bitten by mutant ninja zombies and so on.

My three favourite posts recently are from a geek who's losing interest, an early adopter who intends to carry on but wants to strip it back to its basic components, and a Guardian columnist who is eschewing it entirely on ideological grounds.

Alex Iskold of ReadWriteWeb interviewed his sister, a senior student who was an early adopter. I think she strikes a chord when she says she's unimpressed with constant invites to join Zombies and Vampires and Happy Hour. "When they started to add new features like the wall, photo albums, video capabilities, and groups, people became more interested," Julia says. "But then Facebook took it too far. Now I find Facebook to be a suffocating bombardment of useless applications and features. I prefer an older version of just the basics - messaging, walls, photos and groups."

Phil Whitehouse, a British software geek, thinks Facebook faces a "slow, steady and painful demise". He cites the following evidence (in a heavily edited nutshell): "I'm hardly ever using it... my friends use it less and less...On the rare occasions I visit, it's just to 'ignore' all the invitations I've received.... I haven't read a positive thing about Facebook in the past three months."

And last but not least, Guardian columnist Tom Hodgkinson chimed in this week with a cutting critique of the investors behind the social networking site (which include a CIA venture capital fund and 'neoconservative libertarian' venture capitalists). He ultimately decides that 59 million users can't be right, that Facebook is a "heavily-funded programme to create an arid global virtual republic, where your own self and your relationships with your friends are converted into commodites on sale to giant global brands" and announces he's logging off to do some gardening and read Keats. Good for him.

Mr Hodgkinson seems to share the rather odd view, though, that using Facebook precludes people from doing anything else, or doing anything of value. I'm going to "spend the time I save by not going on Facebook doing something useful, such as reading books", he says.

I have analog friends who argue much the same thing. It's bad for people, they say, to be cooped up and spend all that time online when they could be....out walking/at the beach/reading books/gardening/talking to people in person etc.

Funny, I use Facebook and talk to people in person, and read books, and go to the beach, and go hiking, and blog, twitter, email and talk to people on the phone, sometimes all in the same day.

But I'm with Phil, in the end. I use Facebook less and less and I ignore almost all invitations. But I like to check in on my friends in the UK from time to time, I'm glad it reminds me when my friends' birthdays are and I love playing Scrabulous. So I'll stick with it for a while yet.