October 6th, 2007
When I argued that Facebook is NOT for business, that assertion was roundly dismissed by Facebook’s tech fan club, determined to prove (with Mark Zuckerberg gleefully rooting them on) that Facebook is a serious business tool. In today’s NYT, a more authoritative voice weighs in — one of Facebook’s original college student users, who speaks up on behalf of all of Facebook’s core users — and it seems that joke’s on everyone who’s taking Facebook so seriously:
Facebook did not become popular because it was a functional tool — after all, most college students live in close quarters with the majority of their Facebook friends and have no need for social networking. Instead, we log into the Web site because it’s entertaining to watch a constantly evolving narrative starring the other people in the library.
I’ve always thought of Facebook as online community theater. In costumes we customize in a backstage makeup room — the Edit Profile page, where we can add a few Favorite Books or touch up our About Me section — we deliver our lines on the very public stage of friends’ walls or photo albums. And because every time we join a network, post a link or make another friend it’s immediately made visible to others via the News Feed, every Facebook act is a soliloquy to our anonymous audience.
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.
For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not.
The issue here is not whether online social networking has any high-value business applications — it clearly has, because business thrives on human connections and networks — it’s all about WHO you know.
No, the issue is that so many “adults” fell for Facebook’s ploy to convince them that they should adopt a toy built for college kids as a platform for their professional networking objectives. The deep irony is that Facebook’s core student users — for whom the application was and still is designed — are laughing at the grown-ups as they bumble around the playground, trying to hold meetings in the sandbox and forge new business relationships on the swings.
What Facebook has demonstrated is that professionals are eager to bring their business networking online — and by remaining a playground, Facebook has left open a golden opportunity for social networks tailored to specific professional communities to open their doors to all the “adult” Facebook users still trying to figure out whether they should “poke” their business contacts or doodle on their walls — an opportunity to create a conference hall rather than a playground.