facebook: the Starbucks of social networking?

September 15, 2007

I joined up to facebook some time ago and accepted a trickle of invitations to confirm various people as friends. I wasn’t too sure of its usefulness to be honest and tended to only check in from time to time. However earlier this week I made it the default page on my browser and started to use it more actively. Up till then its main use had been to allow me to check on who my daughter was friends with and which photos she was sharing (old and cunning beats young and gifted every time). I had indulged in the odd compare your film choices game but nothing serious. Then I got a note from Bronwyn Stuckey to invite me into the CPSquare group where she had posed a question: Dave Snowden recently said to Etienne Wenger “If knowledge management had had the tools we have today it would not have needed communities of practice” . One consequence of my consequent engagement is that I think facebook may be another nail in coffin for listservs.

The discussion in the group was interesting, I made a few contributions and then the thread petered out. I was struck by the similarity with a thread on a listserv but then realised that the thread on the facebook group was not only easier to follow (nice clean design) but easier to navigate. Each group has a simple opening menu which shows active threads. In effect this gives facebook a real edge. In a listserv its more difficult to ignore a thread and to resist the temptation to respond to Trolls. Yes I know that there have been on line threaded discussion groups before and some of them have had half way decent navigation, but they don’t have the critical mass of facebook. Not only that maintaining interest and attention to multiple bookmarks makes it difficult. The easy pervasiveness of the listserv has todate ensured its longevity. However with facebook I have an integrating mechanism. I don’t think (but I will experiment) that it will replace the RSS feeder I use but I can see a myself using it more. Since I got active I have used it for email and also avoided having to send emails simply by seeing what my friends were doing.

I realised I was taking it seriously when I removed my rather severe conference photograph and replaced it with my simsonized image: it seemed more in the spirit of things. I also started to update it with where I am and what I am thinking. All in all, I had originally agree with Euan’s assessement: … the cappuccino of social networking. Loads of froth and chocolate shaken on the top. Give me a double espresso any day. Now I am not so sure. The froth and chocolate is there, but it also seems to serves expresso, so maybe its the Starbucks of social networking?

Now round about the same time I got a slightly patronising email from dear old Uncle Jerry. It turns out that he has decided to abandon his Star Series and plans to move over to some more complex attempt to set up various discussion and other forum (plus some publishing which will allow him to continue his journalistic gleaning of other people’s material). He was inviting me to reenter the fray, but I would have to understand that he was maintaining moderation. I sent a note back to say that if it was unmoderated, or moderated by a group of people (as in ActKM) then I might, but that if he wanted to hang on to the apron strings and maintain control forget it. I resisted the temptation to point out that if you banned or forced the resignation of a sizable proportion of your active participants you should not be surprised that discussion suffers in consequence. Regrettably Uncle Jerry still thinks he knows best and that his happy little band will only stay happy if he protects them from the big bad wolves. That said, good luck to those who want to make something of it. I am afraid I was a little short in my reply to him, but there is limit to my tolerance of stupidity not matter how well intentioned.

Why raise this? Well it linked in with the facebook experience. A group of us who are qualified to wear the banned by Uncle Jerry T Shirt along with others not banned but also happy with open free and critical comment had been thinking about setting up a collective blog. The idea was to create a space where it was safe to have an opinion and even the odd argument without censorship or paternalistic control. Having seen the way facebook groups work it looks like we will use that instead. Watch out for announcements here when we are set up and ready to go. If nothing else it will be an interesting experiment. Of course it is, as is most social computing an open and free environment …

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