Newsletter No. 12 - Facebook

Hi there

and welcome to my latest newsletter - this one themed on Facebook. As many of you will know I am not a big fan of Facebook - it does badly what can be done so much better elsewhere - but it is huge and beginning to throw up some really interesting stuff which I thought I would touch on here.

Facebook as a nation state?

I have argued for years that we forget what a relatively recent "invention" the nation state is and the degree to which its existence relied on mass media to create the impression of a unity that in many cases hadn't previously existed. With advent of the web and new ways of forging individual and collective identities it was inevitable that we would begin to question the tribes that we belong to - including nation sates. The Economist recently posted an article musing about the size of Facebook and its similarities with nation states which explores some fascinating possibilities.

Facebook Credits

So if you have a nation state online don’t you need a currency? Facebook has been building a system of credits to pay for things within its ecosystem like games and gifts but people are starting to wonder what might happen if this was extended to cover other exchanges of services within Facebook - or even transfer of credit between users.

Facebook patterns

Whenever anyone asks me what I think is going to happen next on the web I resist answering as I am always wary of any kind of futurology. If pressed I say patterns. We have all these tools that make it easy to express ourselves and share information but once you have those you need other tools to help you identify the signal in the noise. This is where Facebook has enormous power. With 500 million people sharing their likes, interests and activities Facebook has unprecedented demographic information on vast numbers of people and can use that data to generate patterns. 

One of the possible uses of these patterns is search. It became to clear to me any years ago when our forum at the BBC got to a significant size that a lot of its value was as a search tool. Instead of taking your chances with a search engine suddenly you could ask large numbers of people what information they found useful in a particular circumstance and where to find it. Corporate Social Search before the phrase was even thought of! With demographics on the scale available to Facebook you can start to automate this process and prompt people with information that may be useful to them, based on their actions and those of their friends, even before they have started to realise they need it! As the limits of the algorithmic search that drives Google become apparent alternatives such as social search become more attractive.

The dark side of Facebook

Partly as a result of my previous newsletter on privacy I was asked to appear recently on the BBC News Channel to comment on Facebook’s panic button for children. Instigated under pressure from UK authorities, the button is meant to give children, concerned about various forms of abuse, a way to attract attention from those who can help. While I understand the motivation for such “buttons” my reaction was that networks like Facebook become safer when they are representative of society as a whole and normal checks and balances can prevail. If the media didn't make parents paranoid about the internet then more of them would be in Facebook making it generally a safer place for their kids!

In an interesting and provocative post Danah Boyd raises the issue of racism on MySpace and Facebook and says:

In this way, the Internet is often a mirror of the ugliest sides of our society, the aspects of our society that we so badly need to address. What the Internet does — for better or worse — is make visible aspects of society that have been delicately swept under the rug and ignored. We could keep on sweeping, or we could take the moment to rise up and develop new strategies for addressing the core issues that we’re seeing. Bigotry doesn’t go away by eliminating only what’s visible. It is eradicated by getting at the core underlying issues. What we’re seeing online allows us to see how much work there’s left to do.

Many moons ago when I met Vint Cerf, one of the inventors of the internet, and when I was with him he was asked whether looking back he thought the internet was a good or a bad thing. His response was:

It is just a thing. Whether it is good or bad depends what you do with it. If you don't like what you are doing with it then it is simply a reflection of what you are as an individual, an organisation or a society and that is what you have to fix

Other News

While this newsletter is primarily about Facebook it would be remiss not to mention the current story about Wikileaks and Afghanistan. You can read the information here and Ross Mayfield has a nice blog post on what it means here.

Another interesting piece of news that caught my eye this month is the fact that sales of Kindle books have exceeded those of hardback books at Amazon US. Books may be my last contact with the analogue world but it looks like even that may weaken!

Best Blog Post

As ever I have chosen a post from my blog that I have enjoyed and that has attracted a number of comments to reproduce here for those of you who don’t subscribe to my blog. 

Destructive Criticism

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 AT 11:30PM

Tonight I attended a music competition at my daughter's school. We were truly blown away by the standard of all of the acts which had been organised, choreographed and written by the pupils themselves. Genuinely talented, nice kids lifting the spirit with their energy and commitment.

Then came the adjudication. One of the most inappropriate responses I have seen in years. Every comment on every item had to have the obligatory "could try harder" element which of course ended up being delivered with more relish than the rest of the feedback.

Goodness knows what motivated the woman but her behaviour struck me as a classic case of being given authority and assuming that that means keeping things in check and being in a position of knowing better - even if you don't. You can stack it up alongside the price of pomposity as one of those so, so damaging, and unnecessary, aspects of authority that we could well do without.

You can find the original post and read the wonderful comments thread here.

Recommended Reading

I have added a Reading List to my site which includes a few books that have made a real difference to me and which I hope you will enjoy. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction books on productivity, motivation and various business topics. I haven’t written too much about these topics in the past but realise that in fact these are subjects that people need to get more up to speed with as the world of work changes

Productivity Tip

Sometimes it seems that no matter what you do some days go from bad to worse and your best laid plans fall apart. Well it seems that that feeling is more in our own control than we may have realised. This excellent article from Steve Schwartz explains that in fact we have more control of how a day turns out than we may have thought. My favourite quote is:

Remember that the outcome of the last minute is not indicative of the outcome of the next minute. Likewise, the last hour has no bearing on the next hour, and this morning is no indication of what this afternoon will bring.

New Services Page

I recently re-wrote my services page on my web site to more accurately reflect the kind of work I am doing for clients these days. Please do get in touch if any of these services interest you and feel free to pass the link on to others!

Thanks again for reading and as ever let me know what you think of this newsletter and do recommend it to others if you consider it useful.