Facebook


I read Wikinomics for a class this summer, but this time around I couldn’t help but think of Facebook’s new applications. Earlier this year, Facebook opened up their website so that people and companies could add applications and users could add them to their profiles.

I find the influx of Facebook applications and their popularity to be absolutely amazing. Facebook was already popular as it was–in a way, it was a giant collaborative effort where every member had their own profile, participated in groups, and had multiple networks of friends, family, classmates, and colleagues. But what Facebook had obviously wasn’t enough. The Facebook Applications show the need for more–more interaction, more collaboration, and having some kind of impact on the wikinomony (wiki+economy). In August alone, over 14 million users used the various Facebook applications.

14 million users…but how successful has it actually been? A closer look at the long tail shows that a very small number of Facebook’s applications have even been successful. Regardless of this fact, however, stands the notion that the very idea of Facebook third party applications are necessary to keep Facebook alive amidst the sea of Wikinomics.

Tapscott and Williams rightfully argue in Wikinomics that the “heart of MySpace is the personalized profile. Members fill them with interests, tastes, and values, supplemented by music, photos, and video clips that make their profiles even more appealing.” (p. 29) Facebook went from having more static pages with fairly basic questions to adopting the MySpace way of social networking. Customizing facebook pages with the third party applications is where the bar is, and Facebook sought to surpass it.

I think that Facebook’s pursuit of the third party applications is exactly what has brought its value up over the past six months. In September of 2007, Microsoft bought out 1.6% of Facebook for $240 million, meaning the actual price of Facebook is billions of dollars. Had Facebook remained the way it was–sans third party applications–I doubt their numbers would be able to go that high.

Wikinomics stresses that collaboration is happening not only on a social or social networking level, but more importantly on an economic level. The four basic ideas of Wikinomics–peering, sharing, openness, and acting globally–are all evident in Facebook and its new applications. Non-Facebook third party application developers are the very essence of crowdsourcing and mass collaboration.

So what does this mean for the future of Facebook? Wikinomics is the name of the game, and Facebook has to continue to allow Facebook applications to enter their space. But when is too many Facebook aplications simply. . .too much? There is already an overload and the long tail has already made itself noticeable. Facebook must stay on top of mass collaboration to stay ahead of their competitors and thrive in the market.

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“Critics of the blogosphere claim that the vast new wilderness of voices adds more noise to an overly saturated media environment. With over 50 million blogs, 1.5 million blog posts daily, and a new blog created every second, you’d think they have a point. But ultimately their critique is trite.”
Wikinomics, p. 40

Well, here’s my warning: I’m one of those critics.

Throughout this course, I’ve been open minded while also wondering: doesn’t this kind of collaboration just seem to be organized chaos? I discussed this a few weeks ago in this blog, and I can’t help but still feel bewildered. Either some of you will agree with me, or some of you will think I am completely off my rocker (I think, given the title of this course, it will be the latter).

Up until June, I had never heard of Flickr or del.icio.us (I think I just heard an audible gasp echoing throughout the blogosphere). I’m still a proud user of Webshots (password protected, thank you very much), my personal Apple bookmarking folder, and pretty much keeping my online personality private. My Facebook friends are the only ones able to see my profile and pictures. In fact, when my friends send around pictures of invitations, they do so through Snapfish or Evite—not Flickr or Upcoming. I think the majority of them haven’t even heard of the latter.

All I’m saying is this: as a 22-year old female who is college educated, receiving a masters education, and seems to be on the fringe of what’s “hip”, there’s a lot about the online world that even I don’t know about—and my friends tease me about being in the know. Imagine all those people out there that have absolutely no idea about this stuff. Sure, we check out Wikipedia and Facebook, but our own collaboration is minimal. There are those of us that want some kind of anonymity online—I don’t want people looking at my pictures from my recent trip to Charleston with my friends, or other students I don’t know within my UVA network on Facebook to check out my favorite books and interests. All this exposure leaves little to be desired.

Of course I understand the amazing potential for our world online in terms of marketing, social media, and public relations. But…where does it come to more of a standstill? The whole thing currently seems like such a flurry of information. I get overwhelmed if I am away from my computer all day and even attempt to check New York Times or even Perez Hilton (hey, we all get our guilty pleasures). With everything just SO constantly updated, what do you do if you—god forbid—miss a day? An afternoon? Even an hour or two?

What I took away from Wikinomics is that virtually EVERYBODY is collaborating—everybody suddenly has a Harry Potter magic wand of empowerment, and we are all exchanging information by being open, peering, sharing, and acting globally. What I think, however, is that so many of us are still hesitant.

As soon as I read that we were studying virtual communities this week, Jamiroquai’s 1996 “Virtual Insanity” popped into my head. In this new virtual world of interaction, oftentimes this sense of community can become linked to an idea of chaos. The name of Jamiroquai’s album, Traveling Without Moving, highlights this idea of online communities—in a time where they hadn’t even begun to really gain ground in cyberspace like they have today. And of course, there was the music video that most people think of when they hear the song. Jamiroquai walks on a conveyer with the image of moving, but actually staying in place. A metaphor for the online world? Depends on how you look at it.

Facebook: a new online community
Facebook was launched on Harvard’s campus in February of 2004. Following suit of an ideal online community, Facebook was originally marketed towards college students who wanted to get in touch with students on other campuses as well as connecting with members on their own campus. In April of 2004, Facebook made its way onto my college campus through vigorous word-of-mouth. Following the path of the Ivy League schools, UVA students quickly scurried to their computers to sign up for this new networking site. At the time, I barely knew what it was, and I had not even heard much about MySpace or Friendster. All I knew was that it was obviously popular in New England schools, and we saw ourselves as trailblazers for what we thought might be a fleeting trend. As we now know, Facebook has erupted into massive phenomenon not only for college students, but for anyone with a working e-mail address.

Facebook’s growing popularity
So what is it that makes Facebook so popular? Work and geographic networks are almost as popular as undergraduate and graduate networks. For myself, it started out as a great way to get in touch with high school friends and see what old friends were up to. Not before long, however, it turned into an opportunity to create long profiles, add photos, links, and exchange gifts. Facebook has become its own empire, complete with t-shirts and other paraphernalia. Obviously, this is no longer just a “college thing.”

Our dependence on virtual communities in cyberspace
The very definition of a virtual or online community is a group of people that interact on the internet. Online communities have become a rather fluid concept. I have a number of friends that will deactivate their facebook accounts, only to go through a kind of withdrawal and reactivate it in a week or so later. Not only do they feel out of the loop with new information—cultural, local, gossip, or otherwise—but their friends give them a hard time for getting rid of their membership. In an age where communication is key, Facebook serves as the ultimate tool.

Where is Facebook going now?
The new applications on Facebook have been met with mixed responses. There are an overwhelming amount of new applications to customize your facebook page. Being curious, I added a few—soon after, I had somebody tell me “Your profile is starting to look like a MySpace page.” Enough said, because I quickly deleted all of my new apps and kept my page at the bare minimum. Many Facebook users have chosen the site over its competitors like MySpace because of its simple interface and sleek look. The last thing a loyal Facebook user wants to hear is that it’s turning into MySpace.

The power of Facebook
Facebook became popular at a time when college students were looking to connect with one another. Websites like College Humor allowed students to send in pictures, videos, and stories to share. Facebook enabled students to personalize this information with their own profiles, while still being able to share things they thought were amusing or funny.

As a generation, we have become especially adept to this notion of sitting at our computer and learning about almost anything. The customization of the internet is what has powered Facebook gain so much momentum. Now, anybody can sit on their Facebook account and get link to YouTube videos, personal blogs, or the most recent news articles and political debates. It’s the very essence of traveling without moving. The very hustle and bustle of the online world has a chaotic factor to it. The personalization of RSS feeds, Facebook accounts, Google homepages help control this online world of virtual insanity.