Facebook has had a profound effect on how we connect with the people around us. I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground when I say that. This week really brought this idea to the front of my thoughts for a few different reasons.
The Facebook Effect
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend an event at the Computer History Museum titled Net@40: The Facebook Effect, Author David Kirkpatrick, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in Conversation with NPR’s Guy Raz. As luck would have it, Wednesday was the same day that Facebook reached the 500 million users milestone; needless to say, Zuckerberg had plenty to talk about on a day like that. The talk is going to be uploaded to the museum’s YouTube channel sometime soon.
I haven’t had a chance to read Kirkpatrick’s book, The Facebook Effect, although I’m planning on starting it this weekend, so I cannot in good conscience write anything about the book yet. To be fair, Zuckerberg said he hadn’t read Kirkpatrick’s book either, though he has read excerpts and respects Kirkpatrick as a journalist. I have read Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires, which Zuckerberg considers “a work of fiction” – again, even though he hasn’t read the book. Not that I think he should read The Accidental Billionaires, mind you; it was one of the worst pieces of writing that I’ve read in recent memory.
Some points and quotes that I found thought-provoking during the talk, while skipping the inevitable privacy discussions that came up:
- For the 500 million “active” users, there are 1500 employees at the company with 400 of them being engineers. That’s a ratio of 1 engineer for every 1.25 million users. And my co-workers wonder why I grumble when they say we don’t have enough people to get everything accomplished…
- I put “active” in quotes because I don’t know what Facebook’s definition of an active user is. At my company, we have a distinct differentiation between active and total users – if someone hasn’t logged in more than a certain number of times in a 30 day span, we don’t consider them active.
Zuckerberg is only 26 years old, and by the time he was first starting Facebook at Harvard, I was already wrapping up my 7th year in my full-time professional career – and unlike Zuckerberg, I finished college! As I understand it, Facebook’s valuation is around $27 billion, and Zuckerberg still owns about 25% of the company — by my math, he’s worth over $6 billion (on paper).
- Presenting yourself differently in different contexts (personal vs. professional for instance) is, by definition, a lack of integrity. Or so claims Zuckerberg. I would argue that only someone without any real depth of character can display himself the exact same way in all contexts. There will always be aspects of myself that aren’t broadcasted to everyone in my life in the same way… not necessarily because I’m trying to hide something or misrepresent myself, but merely because the totality of ME is more than you’ll see in a casual encounter.
- Facebook is not an application; it’s not software as a service. In Zuckerberg’s view, Facebook is a community of users, creating and sharing content. The Facebook website and its associated properties and services are merely the platform to enable this community to reach their friends and families.
MY Facebook Effect
As a proof point of the power of Facebook to connect people to their friends and families, I’ll present my own personal case study from this week.
I recently started seeing someone, and she’s pretty awesome. For some reason, she actually thinks I’m not too bad myself. If you read my How Full Is Your Glass? post last month, maybe now you’ll understand where my positivity was coming from that day.
At the same time, I’ve always been rather quiet on the subject of my dating; usually because I’m NOT dating anyone, but my philosophy has always been to only bring it up to friends and family if I get past the 3rd date with someone. That way, I have a pretty good sense that it’s going somewhere and it’s worth even discussing.
Notice that in the time since I’ve joined Facebook that my relationship status has always been marked as Single? Yeah, me too.
So when we took the plunge to announce to our Facebook friends that we were “in a relationship”, the reach of the news is far broader than it could have ever been if we’d told people individually. At last count, I have 622 friends on Facebook, and April is even more popular, with 692 friends.
The activity in the stream showing the two profiles linking together “in a relationship” churned out a tidal wave of chatter. At last count, the relationship status change has produced 20 “likes” and 39 comments on April’s profile page. On mine, 41 “likes” and 16 comments.
But the coup de grace was that one of my friends created a group for People who like Jason Nassi’s change in relationship status. The group currently has 28 members. I don’t really know if I should give the group’s creator a bro-hug or a swift kick in the ass. But it’s all in good fun.
Here’s where the reach of Facebook comes in. A cursory glance through the people who’ve responded just on my profile’s page or in the group shows me family members, high school friends, friends who I haven’t seen in over a decade, friends and co-workers who I see on a daily basis, and even Twitter friends who I’ve never even met. I count at least 10 different states around the US, and at least two other countries outside of the US.
I could have broadcasted the news over Twitter or in this blog, but would I have reached the same people? Probably not.
So, thank you Facebook for helping me connect with my friends and family. And, lastly, if YOU want to be my friend on Facebook, just ask 🙂