I recently read a post by Robin Cannon on “Why Facebook is Useless.” It was very well written and upon my first read, I sort of agreed with the points made. However, I was at an event earlier today and something happened to change my mind.
I was sitting at a group dinner at the campus’ Hillel when someone mentioned it was National Hug a Mexican day. “Ok,” says I. “Why is it Hug a Mexican Day?”
“It says so on Facebook,” came the matter of fact response.
As is frequently the case when a member of a previous generation talks about the tools and activities of my peers in “Generation i” (we’ll get to why we are called that in a later post) the situation is something like the scene in Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn. We are ships passing in a nebula, we’re on the same axis, but different levels.
The reason why Facebook is successful and why it will likely continue to be so is because it is a social network where no one cares about you. On the web, an environment where there are A-lists and web celebrities, Facebook is the place where everyone is the same. You’re Facebook existence isn’t about adding value to the community, the system isn’t built that way (as a few in-Facebook bloggers have found out). The Facebook experience is about finding how to connect somewhere else.
A less obscure comparison: In FriendFeed, your value as a member is determined by the wealth and quality of your contributions to the community. The same is true in most social networks. On Facebook, your value comes from what you add to yourself. It is like a social business card. The great bulk of Facebook users are there to check each other out, to find out what people are doing, and to see just how hot the girl next door is, but all this in order to compare it to what the user is doing and how to get in on that action. On Facebook, no one cares about groups, blogs, or talking to each other. When you are on Facebook it is all about YOU.
There is a reason why the biggest thing on the average Facebook wall is the photo. The reason people are on Facebook is to show themselves off and to see what other people are showing off, not to contribute. Facebook is about pushing the events that you are doing to gain cred for yourself or your organization. It’s not creating content, it is creating personal radiance.
Let’s take it back to my story. Hug a Mexican Day is an event that was created to complement Hug a Jew Day. Hug a Jew Day is an event that was created in relation to the anniversary of “the night of broken glass” which was the beginning of the Holocaust. But the people who created Hug a Mexican Day didn’t know that. Most of the people in Hug a Jew Day didn’t know that either, they just hit “Join Event” when their friend invited them to it. But here’s the thing, It doesn’t matter. People hugged their Mexican friends anyway.
Facebook dictates what happens in the real lives of many thousands of High School and College students, it is responsible for where they go, when they go, and who they hang out with. That’s why Facebook is going to be sticking around a lot longer then anyone expects.