Scott Adams: Facebook Killer

“Facebook is primarily a record of your past. Imagine a competing service that I will name Futureme for convenience. It’s an online system in which you post only your plans, both immediate and future. As with FaceBook, you decide who can see your plans. You might, for example, allow only specific family members to see your medical plans, but all of your friends can see your vacation plans, or your plans to buy a new couch.

The interface for Futureme is essentially a calendar, much like Outlook. But it would include extra layers for hopes and goals that don’t have specific dates attached.

For every entry to your Futureme calendar, you specify who can see it, including advertisers. If you allow advertisers a glimpse of a specific plan, it would be strictly anonymous. Advertisers could then feed you ads specific to your plan, while not knowing who they sent it to. The Futureme service would be the intermediary.

Now imagine that you never have to see any of the incoming ads except by choice. If you plan to buy a truck in a month, you would need to click on that entry to see which local truck advertisements have been matched to your plans. This model turns advertising from a nuisance into a tool. You‘d never see an ad on Furureme that wasn’t relevant to your specific plans.”

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“Information network” vs “social network”

Ben Parr writes a column for Mashable called The Social Analyst. Here is an exceprt from his comparison of Facebook and Twitter:

“On Facebook, you’re supposed to connect with close friends. Becoming friends with someone means he or she gets to see your content, but you also get to see his or her content in return. On Twitter, that’s not the case: you choose what information you want to receive, and you have no obligation to follow anybody. Facebook emphasizes profiles and people, while Twitter emphasizes the actual content (in its case, tweets).”

“The result is that the stream of information is simply different on both services. You’re more likely to talk about personal issues, happy birthday wishes, gossip about a changed Facebook relationship status, and postings about parties on your Facebook News Feed. On Twitter, you’re more likely to find links and news, and you’re more likely to follow brands, news sources and other entities outside of your social graph. In fact, Twitter tells me that one out of every four tweets includes a link to some form of content.”

I think if you boil it down, for me it’s the difference between “Friending” and “Following”

“Unlike most social networks, following on Twitter is not mutual. Someone who thinks you’re interesting can follow you, and you don’t have to approve, or follow back.”

The Social Network

A movie is going to be made about an important part of your life. Your only imput is to choose from the following:

  • A great director and screenwriter tell a a really interesting story that has people glued to their seats for 90 minutes, but bends or breaks the the truth whenever necessary to make the story interesting. And millions go to see it.
  • A so-so writer and a second-rate director make an exactly-as-it-happened movie that puts the audience to sleep and it hits cable in week 4.

Maybe it’s just the film buff in me but I’d much rather the be subject of a compelling bit of fiction, even if I came off looking like an asshole.

I really enjoyed The Social Network. I never saw an episode of The West Wing so this was my first (?) exposure to the Mr. Sorkin’s snappy diaglogue and it was sharp as a mouse turd.

I read David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect this summer (not the boook upon which the movies was based) and it showed Mark Zuckerberg in a more flattering light.

As I watched the story unfold, I found myself hoping Zuckerberg did some of the sleazy things alleged in the movie. It would be pretty shitty to have this really well-made film floating around for the rest of my life portraying stuff I didn’t do.

If Zuckerberg did get the idea for FB from the Winklevoss twins, well, they should have had a lawyer. If he screwed over his friend Eduardo… that’s a weight he’ll have to carry. But all those people on Facebook will never know or care.

UPDATE: Scott Adams calls this movie the best he’s ever seen. (!) Here’s his review.

Visiting Facebook

“My mother made me a homosexual.”
“If I buy the wool, will she make me one, too?

During my college days (late ’60s), graffiti became something of a fad within our little group (along with trivia). I’m talking about the kind of graffiti you found on the walls of bathroom stalls.

It was common practice to tack a large piece of poster board to the back of your bathroom door with a Bic pin dangling from a string. These “conversations” could go on for weeks or months, becoming ever more baroque and obscure. We took great pride in our wit and when the poster was filled with scribbles, it was put on a wall someplace, like the pop art it was (or pretended to be).

I was reminded of this long-lost art by my first two weeks (back) on Facebook. What I’m seeing is mostly chit-chat. Short shout-outs and “Like’s” …maybe a photo here and there. And I do not mean to disparage these brief communications. I can see how Facebook has become a replacement for some/most email. A quick an easy way to ping your friends.

I think I get this kind of digital chatter. My friend David and I can string out an IM session composed of nothing but witless repartee. It’s fun. But I’m not getting this on Facebook, which probably says something about me and my expectations for the platform. As I try to understand the Facebook phenomenon, the first question that occurs to me is:

“What do I have in common with the people I have Friend’d and who have Friend’ed me?”

If the answer is: We went to highschool together 40 years ago or we work together… is that enough for anything but the most superficial relationship?

Every time I log onto Facebook, I get the same feeling I get at one of those management retreats when the “facilitator” tells everyone to “divide up into groups of four” or “turn to the person next to you and…” My buddy David would explain this by saying, “You just don’t like people.” I hope that’s not true but perhaps I wouldn’t be able to tell.

And on the subject of superficiality, I’ve been on Twitter since early days (6,000+ Tweets). But it’s a very different platform. More about “broadcasting” a thought or idea or link. If others find what you share interesting or amusing, they can “follow” along. If you happen to read their stuff and find it worth your time and attention, you can do the same. But you don’t have to be Friends.

I don’t know that I will ever acquire a taste for the Facebook Kool-Aid but that’s okay. There are lots of places to engage online, in a variety of ways. I’m growing ever more fond of Posterous (but won’t bore you with details). I’m a big Google fan and look forward to their next effort at social networking (Buzz didn’t click for me). And in a few weeks we’ll get a look at Diaspora, an open-source project by four young college students.

At work a few of us have been experimenting with a service called Yammer. It’s pretty much “Twitter” for a business or company. Only people who work for our company (and have a company email address) can use the service. This makes a lot of sense to me. There is sure to be a lighter, personal side to the “yams,” but it’s mainly to improve communication and productivity. I’m very interested in seeing if it gets traction.

As I reread the above it occurs to me that this might be the sort of stuff I’d like to see from my “Friends.” What are they thinking about?

But most folks aren’t comfortable with sharing too much about their lives. And Facebook isn’t the place if they did. So it’s beginning to make more sense to me. Facebook is place. And a good, comfortable place for a lot of people. I can pop in for a quick visit from time to time, but I won’t live here. Hope you’ll come visit.

Facebook. One more time.

Yesterday I created a Facebook account. This is the third, possibly the fourth, time I have attempted Facebook. I say “attempted” because I have never quite “gotten” Facebook. I think I understand social networks as well as the next person but this platform has just never been a good fit for me. So why give it another shot?

A couple of reasons. One, I’d like to better understand why FB is home to half a billion people around the world. Two, social networking has become a bigger part of my job and I can’t properly support clients without a feel for Facebook.

Connecting and communicating with people you know seems to be at the core of Facebook. I send you a “Friend Request” and, if you accept it, I can see some for all of what you’re doing on Facebook, depending on how you have your privacy settings configured. If you don’t accept, I’m blocked.

I’ve had lots of conversations with Facebook users in an effort to understand it (without actually using it). A common theme goes something like this:

Jane is miffed that Bill refused to accept (or ignored?) her friend request. He doesn’t want her to be part of his online life and she’s not happy about it. She thought they were, well, friends.

In the next breath, Jane is explaining why she is getting creeped out by the co-worker who keeps sending her friend requests. The irony is completely lost on Jane.

Some Facebook users deal with this by just accepting all friend requests and ignoring the stuff from the not-really-friends. Others just ignore the requests.

I don’t plan on spending any more time on Facebook than is necessary to understand how it works. I’ll auto post from my blog, YouTube, Twitter and all the rest. So, there will be no shortage of stuff on my “wall,” but it all originates from somewhere else where anyone can see what I’m up to. But that’s clearly less convenient that seeing all within the Facebook compound.

How will I handle “friend” requests (assuming I get any)? I’ll probably ignore them unless we already have an online connection (and I probably won’t give you a kidney, either).

So I’m headed off to Facebook with the same enthusiasm as for my first boy-girl dance party mom made me attend (on Bill Wicker’s patio). I didn’t dance there either.

If you can’t poke me, I don’t have to ignore you

Mary Elizabeth Williams ( has done better with Facebook than I but she’s much better at explaining why she’s ignoring your friend requests:

“When my friend list began to swell to unmanageable proportions, I found it increasingly difficult to weed out the dialogue with people I really liked from the random news from people I had nothing in common with. I relearned that some of them were really obnoxious. I was getting poked and superpoked and invited into mafia wars and invited to become a fan of people and things I was no fan of, all the damn time. As they say on Facebook, I unliked it. I unliked it a lot.”

“In the months since my self-imposed embargo, I’ve noticed how rarely new requests come with so much as two lines of introduction. Socializing is, for many, now a one-click affair — as easy as clicking Add or Accept. When someone does take the time to write a note, whether it’s a pal from the old neighborhood or a random reader, I write back. But I don’t want to collect names on a list like they’re seashells on the beach. So if we should meet at a party and hit it off, let’s have coffee or see a movie sometime. Let’s be friends in real life. And who knows? Maybe if it goes really well, someday, we can even be friends on Facebook.”

This is a thoughtful piece by someone who still likes many of the aspects of being on Facebook.

“Humanity’s Database”

That’s the title of David Pogue’s review of The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick. A few excerpts:

“(Kirkpatrick) has written what amounts to two books about it: the first and second halves of “The Facebook Effect.” The first part is a fascinating but flawed corporate history, starring Facebook’s reticent creator, the Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg; the second is a thoughtful, evenhanded analysis of the Web site’s impact.”

“Not long from now, Facebook will be a frighteningly centralized database containing the information of about a half-billion people. Its advertisers already use this data (“You can show your ad only to married women aged 35 and up who live in northern Ohio,” Kirkpatrick notes), but apart from that, nobody can predict what the company will do with our information.”

“Despite its foibles, “The Facebook Effect” leaves you with a deep under standing of Facebook, its philosophies and, most startlingly, its power. You come away with a creepy new awareness of how a directory of college students is fast becoming a directory of all humanity — one that’s in the hands of a somewhat strange 26-year-old wearing a T-shirt and rubber Adidas sandals.”

Several times while reading Mr. Pogue’s review I found myself saying, “Yeah. I didn’t think of that.”

Can Facebook really “connect?”

Reading David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect has piqued my interest in the service (which I do not use) so I’m unconsciously on the lookout for anything FB related. Like this post (at Mashable) by Ori Brafman, the co-author of Click: The Magic of Instant Connections. An excerpt:

“Social psychologists have found that the distance separating people greatly influences the likelihood of a connection. Think back to your friends in school. How many of them had a last name that began with a letter close to yours on the alphabet? That’s because teachers routinely assign seats alphabetically based on last name. The closer you sat to someone, the more likely you were to hit it off. When a researcher asked police cadets to name their friends from the academy, ninety percent of them named someone who sat adjacent to them. Likewise, scientists proved more likely to collaborate with other scientists who sat in the same corridor.”

“Facebook used to be an intimate community that only included your college buddies. Now, the company is starting to be perceived as Big Brother-like. If we write on someone’s wall, who else will see it? If we comment on someone’s status, whose newsfeed will it show up in? Sometimes it’s as if Facebook is a hidden microphone that threatens to expose what we’d really like to say. Without that ability to be vulnerable, it is difficult to really connect with friends.”

This idea really comes through, again and again, in the first half of Kirkpatrick’s book. And this absence of real (okay, online “real”) connection might be what’s missing for me.

The Facebook Effect

The sub-title of David Kirkpatrick’s book is, “The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World.” I like the idea of connecting the world and I’m finding Kirkpatrick’s book a real page-turner. While I can’t seem to fit Facebook into my online life, I want to understand it’s brief history while watching it being made.

UPDATE: I’ve finished the book and rank it among the most interesting I have read this year. Or, in a long time. David Kirkpatrick had me on the edge of my seat from cover to cover. After the jump are some excerpts that got some highlighter.

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The secret to Farmville’s popularity

“The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness.[11] We playFarmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another. We play Farmville because we are polite, cultivated people.” — From an essay by y A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz

I’ve never played Farmville. Or any other Facebook game. I don’t have a Facebook account anymore and find myself unable to explain why I do not. So it’s hardly fair to use this thoughtful essay as an explanation. But the very essence of Facebook seems to be social obligation. I hate obligations and avoid them wherever possible.

Facebook/Farmville fans can tell me where Mr. Liszkiewicz misses the mark with his essay.