I'm sick to death of the thing. Not just Facebook the application, but talking about Facebook. Half the questions I'm asked by interviewers and students and after talks—talks that have nothing to do with Facebook—are about Facebook.
Is Facebook becoming too powerful? What should our business Facebook strategy be? What is my kid doing on Facebook? Who controls Facebook? When will I be able to buy stock in Facebook? Facebook, Facebook, FACEBOOK.
I can answer these questions, but they're irrelevant. Facebook—and the "social networking" it embodies—is temporary. Its centrality is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mainstream media are desperate for "human interest" material, and we relate to stories about our digital networks. Sorry Wrong Number expressed the anxiety of early telephone culture, You've Got Mail shared the possibilities for e-mail generation, The Social Network is the vehicle for today's Facebook age.
So, Time magazine names Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its Man of the Year, and you get a picture of the can't-beat-'em-so-join-'em approach to this "threat" of social media. By surrendering their screens and pages to stories about social networking, these traditional media outlets hope for the Likes and Tweets required to survive in a social media-driven space.
One story on Facebook leads to another, leads to another, leads to another, until it seems like our entire world is somehow dependent on this solitary social networking app—and all of our organizations, businesses and meetings must somehow incorporate it into their core functioning.
It's not enough to launch a website for every conference or meeting we convene. Now we must also create a Facebook group or (better!) an entirely new social network for our participants. We trudge off to Ning or Groupsite. Sounds great on the surface: our conference can be its own social network! People can connect before the show! Meet up for real! Stay connected afterwards!
But who wants to join yet another social network, have another website or application to check each day along with e-mail, blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter and Facebook on top of whatever proprietary systems for office and company news at work? And of all the places and things and streams we're already checking each day, how many are we even visiting to find something actually useful? Our dominant motivation has simply become making sure there's nothing requiring our attention.
I'm here to tell you the gut-wrenching truth: Facebook does not require your attention. If you like it, find friends and connect to family, God bless. Families fractured over the last century to all parts of the globe, as corporations became dominant employers and local communities disintegrated. It's great to have ways to reconnect. And if you happen to love the way it works, and want to use it to enhance the connectivity of your meeting, go for it. At least you'd be making the decision from your personal experience and your direct observation that it's the right tool for the job.
What's entirely unjustified, however, is the way that planners adopt a social media strategy by default, as if having one were no longer an option, but a requisite. It's this sense of obligation to Facebook and social networking that is the worst enemy of these tools. We end up seeing them as big, to-be-reckoned-with forces, not as applications to play with. Our radical thinking is used to subvert social networking sites, rather than how to use them to enact our revolutionary impulses.
Facebook will not be around forever, as hard as it may be to believe. It is not revolutionary media technology—like the Internet—but a single application that helps limit and direct our Internet activity. There have been many before it, and there will be many to follow.
AOL gave early Internet users a wading pool where they could practice before venturing out onto the "real" Internet. Friendster gave people a way to connect to others through filters and in a more controlled setting than through e-mail or on bulletin boards. Myspace gave kids a way to present themselves to each other and the world (and seemed invincible until Rupert Murdoch bought it).
Facebook will eventually enjoy a similar fate. The next big thing will replace it—Diaspora or some other less-corporate social connectivity tool. There will be the telltale sign of peaked value: when it moves to join up with some *other* big company. Remember what AOL chief Steve Case did when he realized its reign was over. He bought TimeWarner with his company's over-valued stock. Myspace accepted acquisition by Newscorp. Facebook will eventually go the same way.
But arguing or even pondering this is asinine. It only makes whatever is happening on that website (yes, it's really just a website) seem all the more central to our work and lives online and off. It's just not that important.
Ignore it—in your personal life, but more importantly in your professional life. Sure, put that little icon up on your conference home page or after each of your blog entries for people to "share" the link with all their Facebook friends (right next to links for Twitter, Delicious and everything else). But don't obligate yourself or your real networks to "go social" through Facebook or any other such platform. You are events people, for heaven's sake. You represent the very thing that all these social networks are trying to imitate. One+
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