| by Flemming Funch|
I've seen this movie before but this sequel is different & better because it's a blockbuster and everybody's doing itRoland Tanglao, paraphrasing Tim Bray. We're talking about Facebook.
I didn't pay attention to Facebook before just recently. I'm a member of too many online social networks where I have a list of "friends", and nothing else is going on. And at first glance Facebook sounded like just another one, and one I'd be even less interested in than the others. Its positioning seemed to be about finding people you went to college with and that kind of thing, which sounded boring.
I had indeed signed up quite a while ago, and I was getting friend confirmation requests. But the problem is that the options they give you all seemed irrelevant. Normally I've met people online, maybe through blogs, maybe we were in the same network or group or something, or maybe we met at a conference. But none of those are among the choices, so I had to settle for "Met Randomly", even though it wasn't very random. So that just confirmed that it wasn't for me, and I never logged in. Until it became apparent that a lot of people I know think it is a great thing, and I actually logged in and looked around.
And, indeed, there are some things they do that lift it to a whole other level, and it isn't very much at all like Ryze, LinkedIn, Orkut, Xing or Viadeo. The first thing is that you get a feed of what changes about any of your friends. The second is that there's a whole lot of things to do, so there's a lot to see in that feed. And, thirdly, they have what they call applications. It means they've made an API that allows third parties to add modules to their hearts content, to add new functionality, which is nicely integrated with the rest of the site.
Those extra modules make me do some things I otherwise wouldn't bother doing, like rating books I've read recently, because the fact that it is shared with my friends list makes it somewhat more meaningful. None of it is particularly important stuff, but it hooks into the same principles that makes twitter or jaiku interesting. It gives me a continuous ambient awareness of what's going on within one's sphere of friends. There's a swarm kind of thing going on, where I'll catch if a bunch of others suddenly get interesting in a particular subject or a particular application or a particular group. And it does that for me with fairly minimal investment of time, as all I do is to update a few profile type of settings here and there, and I watch one stream of small updates from others I know.
So, this does point at something that's new and interesting, a new type of social interaction, and a trend for the future. But, like the other social networking sites, Facebook is an island. You don't really plug into it unless you're a member. And what if there are several places like that, and I'll had to choose. It is only going to be more permanently useful if there are open standards, and it doesn't matter which particular system I plug into. I'm interested in sharing information with my friends, but I could care less about keeping track of a list of separate websites one can network at. They would have to become more invisible.