Tuesday, November 4, 2008

In Your Face(book)

Drop me a note if you have not heard of Facebook. You need help.

Facebook is a social networking website created in 2004. It allows users to access the web and share information, interests, and activities. Facebook now has more than 100 million active users worldwide and that probably was never in the wildest dream of its creator, Zuckerberg. Other similar social networking websites include MySpace and Friendster.

The idea behind Facebook is quite simple. It allows free access to users but collects its revenue from advertisement. With its huge user base, Facebook is in fact selling 'eyeballs' to the advertisers.

The value of Facebook is now at an enviable amount of multi-billion dollars. Not bad at all for such a simple idea.

Initially, Facebook applications were more 'innocent' with users 'poking' at each other virtually. It has now grown in its sophistication with more than 10,000 available applications. However, only 20-30 of them are really popular. My personal favourite is the awesome 'Prolific'.

Despite its popularity, not everyone embrace Facebook with open arms.

Privacy issue seems to top the list of concerns. Even though Facebook has recently improved its privacy policy, it is unable to deny any data mining being done.

There is also criticism that Facebook is reserved for narcissistic people whose emphasis is on quantity over quality. Such users typically race against others to have numerous but shallow relationship and prone to displaying self-promoting pictures.

Many organisations also disapprove of the use of Facebook and block its access on their computers. The fact that Facebook is denied in the same manner as gambling and pornographic websites speaks volume of the prevalence of opposing forces.

A few days ago, the Straits Times carried a story on how Facebook destroys lives. Many cases involving crime of passion were reported to have been triggered by activities within Facebook. In one case, a truck driver stabbed his wife to death because she had changed her Facebook status to 'single'.

On the surface, you may be quick to conclude that Facebook is culpable. Think again. Would you blame the mobile phone just because it has transmitted a text which incites an aggression?

Recently, BBC news reported a study which suggests that 'Bosses should embrace Facebook'. The study reckons that 'attempts to control employees' use of such software could damage firms in the long run by limiting the way staff communicate'.

The pressure for Facebook to be widely acceptable and accessible is mounting. At the rate of its growth, its penetration into our lives seems unstoppable. In time to come, asking anyone to stop using Facebook is akin to asking human mankind not to interact. It won't be possible.

I do not think it is fair to blame Facebook for any social ills it is perceived to have caused. The bottomline is, people need to and want to interact and Facebook is merely a means to do so. There are similar social ills associated with more conventional form of interaction but no one is about to suggest banning the use of emails just because of spam mails with undesirable contents.

Social ills are to be managed and that cannot be achieved solely by removing enablers for communication and interaction.

Social networking is here to stay and it will increasingly dominate the Internet traffic. It is all for a simple reason that people have an incredibly powerful desire to communicate with each other, and that will never go away.

The future of social networking is in collaboration where users from different social-networking platform may come together to achieve the same aim. The trend of social-networking simply does not look reversible at this stage.

Be prepared for the wave of social-networking and don't be swept away and lose your ability to connect with others. You don't have to be a narcissist just because you are a Facebooker. However, resisting it may turn you into a virtual hermit and a solitarian in the real world.

The choice is yours: face up to Facebook or be phased out.

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