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Facebook and the grownups

October 06, 2007

"Dwelling online," writes Alice Mathias in a New York Times op-ed about Facebook, "is a cowardly and utterly enjoyable alternative to real interaction." Mathias, who graduated from Dartmouth earlier this year, punctures the hyper-serious hype that has engulfed Facebook since the social network let grownups in:

In no time at all, the Web site has convinced its rapidly assembling adult population that it is a forum for genuine personal and professional connections. Its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has even declared his quest to chart a “social graph” of human relationships the way that cartographers once charted the world.

As usual, the adults are missing the point: "It’s all comedy: making one another laugh matters more than providing useful updates about ourselves, which is why entirely phony profiles were all the rage before the grown-ups signed in. One friend announced her status as In a Relationship with Chinese Food, whose profile picture was a carry-out box and whose personal information personified the cuisine of China." Now that Facebook is taking itself seriously, the site is being given a hasty intellectual makeover, retrofitted with a "social graph." Like a college senior heading off to his first job interview, it's being forced into an ill-fitting suit jacket:

Facebook administrators have since exiled at least the flagrantly fake profiles, the Greta Garbos and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butters, in an effort to have the site grow up from a farce into the serious social networking tool promised to its new adult users, who earnestly type in their actual personal information and precisely label everyone they know as former co-workers or current colleagues, family members or former lovers.

It's hard to apply a $10 billion valuation to, in Mathias's words, "a circus ring." So now Facebook is "a platform," which certainly sounds important, not to mention boring.


A group of students at UC Berkeley have turned Facebook from "online community theater" (to quote Mathias) into actual theater. Well worth checking out if you're in the Bay Area--it does a great job of dramatizing the real network culture that Mathias writes about (as opposed to the fake one we read so much about in press releases and techblogs).

Posted by: Ryan Shaw [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2007 12:04 PM

I had a conversation about this with our old CEO. I basically said Facebook would die when it filled up with 20-something graduate's middle-aged bosses, making it an unsuitable place to post drunk photographs or bitch about work :-)

I stick the implicit assumption in my final year project: They'll never be a single uber-social network, because people present different versions of themselves to different people. They lie, and omit things, and that's an important part of how people interact. You'd need something generic, like the email protocol, to make SNS an normal part of the internet's fabric. I ought to be able to get an email from a stranger, and see a chain of people linking us alongside it....

Posted by: Thomas [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2007 12:17 PM

Nick, you forgot to explicitly remind your readers that it is Microsoft's $10 billion you are talking about. A quote about Zuckerberg: He is the closest thing to Bill Gates I've seen since the original.. And, of course, there is the customer loyalty and demographics: their loyal undergrads are beginning to graduate out of university in significant numbers and Zuckerberg is not going to just let them walk away. I am sure that Zuckerberg is a talented and hard-working guy. I do not want to attribute any of the Seven Deadly Sins to him, but really, what do you think that this is all about?

Posted by: SallyF [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2007 04:10 PM

What? You don't like user creativity, and you would prefer they own creative work of reinterpreting the nature of an identity, and to offer user-generated interpretation of what is love?
That sounds odd, doesn't it?

Posted by: Bertil [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2007 08:28 PM


Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2007 09:18 PM

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