Tuesday, August 21, 2007

when poking turns to sheep throwing

ah, facebook, the ever-creepier "social networking" website that allows you to connect with people you know or would like to know or are just kinda curious about. the fascination, nay, obsession began my sophomore year at davidson--people couldn't get enough of it. you could "friend" the people you were already friends with and see things about them that you probably already knew! and (omg) you could even "poke" them! if you did enough digging, you could even find out who was dating whom!
then they added high school facebook. pshh, those kids aren't nearly mature enough to use this high-level technology. luckily they kept us separate to, you know, avoid creepy college kids spying on the younglings.
then it was really strange that the new freshman class could "friend" each other before ever meeting, as long as they had their college e-mail address (and it was even stranger that my friend michelle, a junior-to-be, friended them all, too).
then there was the news feed scandal--putting a feed of all of friends' facebook updates took all the fun out of stalking! at a quick glance, you could see that tommy now likes the movie "anchorman" or that jill and billy broke up. what's the fun in that if you don't have to dig for the dirt?
then they opened up facebook to everyone. oh, man. in our davidson bubble, this meant that incoming freshmen could friend each other and join groups even before getting their college e-mail accounts (i wrote a response to this phenomenon for our school newspaper). i was even "friended" by my 31 yr old brother last week! weird.
the most recent obsession, which has pushed traffic away from myspace and into facebook, are facebook apps. facebook opened their api to developers who could create new applications of their own to help beef up the facebook experience. popular apps include iLike (lets you listen to and download music, plus see information on concerts--oh, and of course post everything on your profile), top friends (so you can rank your friends), and where i've been (a map of where you've been and where you want to go).
what do facebook apps add? quantifiably, nothing at this point. i threw a sheep at a friend the other day, and spanked another. is that that much cooler than poking? or couldn't i just write on her wall saying "i wanna throw a sheep at you" or something to that extent?
my biggest issue is that while the facebook demographic shifts older (it, like most social networks, is now largely made up of the 30-45ish demographci), the facebook apps seem to get more and more childish. there are a few more serious ones out there, but to have success as an application, you have to spread virally like crazy--and that ain't easy.
not to mention the fact that they've alienated the early adopters--many of my friends have stopped (or largely stopped) using facebook, and my roommate even declared last week "i hate mark zuckerberg."
so can facebook survive? my brother jed attended a facebook apps developers conference last weekend. here are his comments:
"Facebook was very interesting. I learned a ton, but I'm not convinced that there is a lot of value for older folks yet. What would be the "killer app" that gets all of us old farts to start using it regularly? Basically the platform is open for you to develop whatever you want and stick it inside the Facebook border frames. If you happen to advertise on your section/application, you get 100% of the revenue, which is a good deal. Or you can use your app to drive traffic to a different site and capture revenue there via ads or commerce. But the key is to think of something viral enough that people want to share it with their friends because that is essentially the only way to drive traffic to your app. Nothing in there currently (of 3,000+ apps already developed since the platform opened in May) seems like a particularly good example of something that would either make money or attract older users. Most of the popular apps are either juvenile ("tag, you're it") or related to showing how cool your low resolution pictures/videos are. Good for a certain (young) audience, but kindof a turnoff for older folks.

Included Nat on this email so he has a "heads up" that I will be quizzing him on Wednesday night about the usage of Facebook by his students and his colleagues. And as for you, Ty, do you think that your cohort will continue to use Facebook now that you're into the professional world? I understand that it's useful for "self-expression" and "street cred", but all the apps seem to be so light-weight. It's all about portraying yourself to the world and keeping tabs on your friends. Can you imagine people using Facebook for different reasons? Can you imaging a more complicated app (one that takes a while to learn about, for example) spreading virally the way a "poke" app does?"

so what do y'all think? are there bigger extensions for facebook? does it have lasting power? can a more complex app than a new way to poke people spread widely enough to survive? are there other possible uses for facebook's platform? i'd really love to hear, both because my brother and i are intrigued, and because we at click2remember haven't written off the possibility of developing a facebook app.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

there was a very interesting article in Newsweek this week about facebook and the new older demographic and apps and all that. they essentially posed the same question that you do.

however, i wonder if the simple value of having an online space where you can simply and easily keep track of the whereabouts of hundreds of friends is still very valuable...especially after college. while i think that usage will not be as obsessive, i wonder if that is necessary. i still think that facebook provides a platform that myspace, secondlife and linkedin cant really touch.

all that is to say that i think that there could be a silver bullet app out there, but facebook will not go under if that app doesnt come soon. facebook will still continue to grow.