Sunday, 23 November 2008

Facebook: From 0 to 100 in less than 24h

Three weeks ago, I started my sporadic series of blog posts where I share my experiences improving my online manners through social networking websites, many of which are powered by MySQL. My first target was the traveller site Dopplr, and the second one was Google's picture sharing site Picasa Web.

This time, I'm taking a look at Facebook. As I said in the first (Dopplr related) blog post, I feel like a slow follower in the discipline of social networking on the web. And Facebook was a true case in point, where “everybody else” was there before me (my team, my boss, my aunt, my nephew, my goddaughter, countless colleagues; you get the picture).

Actually, there's an advantage to being a follower: It's easy to grow your network quickly. A mere 24 h ago I wasn't even registered on Facebook, and now, I have over a hundred confirmed friends. And the fact that we're talking about confirmed friends I take as a testimony to the power of Facebook: People actually use Facebook, actively. My Dopplr account hasn't filled up in nearly a month to even half the amount of Facebook contacts in less than a day. Sure, Dopplr isn't for my aunt, nephew or goddaughter, but still -- the activity level correlates with the usefulness.


The two most distinct advantages of Facebook is its worldwide coverage and its technical connectivity. The worldwide coverage is quite a bit weaker in large, well-developed non-English-speaking countries (such as Germany). There is near-zero motivation for my children (13 and 14 years old) to join, as "everyone that matters" to them is on Lokalisten.de, the older siblings of "everyone that matters" are on StudiVZ and their parents on Xing.com. Some similar situation prevails in Japan or China, but not so in Finland. There, all age groups go on Facebook. And this provides lots of value: Sharing pictures with my aunt is done with the same medium as I can ask my goddaughter's bigger sister for a favour, i.e. using her newly-acquired driver's license to pick up my son from Helsinki airport for a pre-Christmas party next weekend. Sure, I could have called her mobile phone, but Facebook was much less intrusive. She's there anyway!

The technical connectivity provides "networking effects between the networks", if you will. I have connected Facebook to my Doppler and Twitter accounts, and to my Google Reader. So status changes in Twitter propagate to Facebook. And new blog entries on Google Reader propagate to my notes / feed on Facebook. And given that, in turn, I have connected Twitter to my SMS and Google Reader to my blogs, it means that my Facebook news page gets automatically updated through my SMS tweets and blog entries. Without any further effort my side. (Sure, it was non-trivial to set up blog aggregation on Google Reader, but I had already gone through that for my home page http://kaj.arno.fi).

For those who neither tweet nor blog, automatic updates of a Facebook page may not sound like nirvana. Yet, that's very close to what it is, within the realm of social networking on the web. What's the purpose of tweeting or blogging or writing stuff for the web, if nobody reads what you write? Or rather, to be more reader centric, which web updates would you rather follow -- those that you get easily notified about in an app where you are anyway, or those for which you have to make a conscious effort to read, by starting a new app or web page? The effort should be on the side of the writer, and with Facebook, the effort is kept to a very manageable level of setup work, after which the updates propagate.

In order for the sentence "it's less than 24 h before I registered on Facebook" to be fully honest, let me now proceed to my summary:


















Positive experiences: Very many, quite significant


+ Suprisingly many friends, relatives, colleagues already connected
+ Good to get reminded of their existence and their daily life
+ Very good worldwide penetration
+ Great that Facebook integrates with Google Reader and my blogs
+ Great that Facebook integrates with Twitter, as this means that I can share things happening through SMS messages
+ Great that I could export an LDIF file from Thunderbird (my email program) and import them into Facebook, which based on email addresses identified already-connected friends very easily
Negative experiences: Few, if any
- Biggest irritation: When I uploaded the LDIF file at what seemingly was a peak time for Facebook, the connection broke several times -- but after a sufficient number of re-tries, the time-outs didn't reoccur
- There's a lot to learn in Facebook (private messages, public messages, updates etc.)
- I didn't find any outward-facing non-member landing page for invitations, along the lines of facebook.com/profile/kajarno
My own confusion -- no fault of the social network itself

I'm using Facebook in Swedish (hey, why use a foreign language?), and this isn't the language that the majority of my friends use in it -- so I don't know what "Upplagt", "Anteckningar" and other similar concepts are in their languages
My network presence isn't monolingual, and all of my friends don't read all of the languages I use. So I end up spamming those who don't understand Swedish with updates in Swedish. On the other hand, some stuff isn't interesting for anybody else except those who read Swedish. I just have to hope that my friends aren't annoyed by updates in languages they don't understand.
It isn't 100% clear to me what I should be public about. Why should I share the books I've read? The films I like? My favourite quotes? So far, I haven't
Remaining questions from my side
People ask me to verify that we "worked at Polycon 1995-2000" or "we travelled to Sorrento in 2006" and I have verified that, but where do I update my past activities myself?
And do I have any real benefit from entering past data?
How do I best group my many contacts into groups, such as based on what language I use with them, where I met them, etc.?
Should I invite real-life friends who are not yet on Facebook, to join?
When should I share pics using Picasa Web, when using Flickr, when using Facebook?
What is the intended use of "puffa" (I think it's "nudge" in English)?

All in all, Facebook is a scalable way of maintaining a social life, to keep in contact with people with a maximum of social interaction and a minimum of technical overhead. With less than a day's experience, I expect to use Facebook several times a week, and improve my offline real social life through online activities.

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1 comment:

  1. "puffa" most likely is "poke" :-)

    What the intended use is, well you poke people... But I'm not sure if that answers your question. Here, try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs

    That pretty much sums up Facebook for you :-)

    I'll give you one more friendly advice: Some old Facebook features might make sense if you think:
    Facebook -> Online version of High School Yearbook -> Things someone might do in High School -> Poke.

    Ok, so maybe it doesn't make sense.

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