Facebook’s appeal is both obvious and rather subtle. It’s a website, but in a sense, it’s another version of the Internet itself: a Net within the Net, one that’s everything the larger Net is not. Facebook is cleanly designed and has a classy, upmarket feel to it–a whiff of the Ivy League still clings. People tend to use their real names on Facebook. They also declare their sex, age, whereabouts, romantic status and institutional affiliations. Identity is not a performance or a toy on Facebook; it is a fixed and orderly fact. Nobody does anything secretly: a news feed constantly updates your friends on your activities. On Facebook, everybody knows you’re a dog.
Maybe that’s why Facebook’s fastest-growing demographic consists of people 35 or older: they’re refugees from the uncouth wider Web. Every community must negotiate the imperatives of individual freedom and collective social order, and Facebook constitutes a critical rebalancing of the Internet’s founding vision of unfettered electronic liberty. Of course, it is possible to misbehave on Facebook–it’s just self-defeating. Unlike the Internet, Facebook is structured around an opt-in philosophy; people have to consent to have contact with or even see others on the network. If you’re annoying folks, you’ll essentially cease to exist, as those you annoy drop you off the grid.
That’s right. Because it’s opt-in, Facebook is the Spam killer. It creates a whole new class of email, because the messages you get are from people you know. Anyone who is in Facebook can send a message to any other member, but those who repeatedly send unwelcome messages can be blocked or reported to be bounced from the network.Those who complain of the “walled garden” nature of Facebook should remember that sometimes walls are helpful: they keep the bad guys out.
Here’s a related interview from last month with Mark Zuckerberg. I highly recommend you read this as well. Here are some highlights:
TIME: Is Facebook’s popularity connected to its focus on authenticity? On your site, misrepresentation of your real self is a violation of company policy.
Zuckerberg: That’s the critical part of it. Our whole theory is that people have real connections in the world. People communicate most naturally and effectively with their friends and the people around them. What we figured is that if we could model what those connections were, [we could] provide that information to a set of applications through which people want to share information, photos or videos or events. But that only works if those relationships are real. That’s a really big difference between Facebook and a lot of other sites. We’re not thinking about ourselves as a community — we’re not trying to build a community — we’re not trying to make new connections.
TIME: Why do you describe Facebook as a “social utility” rather than a “social network?”
Zuckerberg: I think there’s confusion around what the point of social networks is. A lot of different companies characterized as social networks have different goals — some serve the function of business networking, some are media portals. What we’re trying to do is just make it really efficient for people to communicate, get information and share information. We always try to emphasize the utility component.
TIME: The frenzy surrounding Facebook seems to have intensified quite dramatically over the past several months. What do you think is behind the company’s newfound cachet?
Zuckerberg: I think the most recent surge, at least in the press, is around the launch of Facebook Platform. For the first time we’re allowing developers who don’t work at Facebook to develop applications just as if they were. That’s a big deal because it means that all developers have a new way of doing business if they choose to take advantage of it. There are whole companies that are forming whose only product is a Facebook Platform application. That provides an opportunity for them, it provides an opportunity for people who want to make money by investing in those companies, and I think that’s something that’s pretty exciting to the business community. It’s also really exciting to our users because it means that a whole new variety of services are going to be made available.
TIME: With more than 40 billion page views every month, Facebook is the sixth most trafficked site in the U.S., and the top photo-sharing site. What are your international expansion plans?
Zuckerberg: Right now a lot of our growth is happening internationally. We have more than 10% or 15% of the population of Canada on the site. The U.K. has a huge user base. We haven’t translated the site yet, but that’s something we’re working on and it should be done soon. What we’re doing is pretty broadly applicable to people in all different age groups and demographics and places around the world.
This is great weekend reading, as is the Newsweek article, to give background on why Facebook will be such a force in the future of the internet. And I’ve written a few things about Facebook, too, particularly how it can be used for business.
Technorati: Time, Time magazine, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Newsweek