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theatlantic:

The Case for Facebook

Facebook just had modern history’s worst IPO and it’s down again today by some percentage that will be quoted endlessly.
Yet Facebook is still the world’s largest social media site with over 900 million users. And most importantly: Many of those people still visit the site each and every day, regardless of grumbling from cynics or short-term price fluctuations.
We’ve been hard on Facebook at times through the last year, particularly around issues ofprivacy. We will continue to report on them with the same rigor that we’ve maintained over the years. But as the company’s stock has fallen since its IPO, so many people are piling on with glee that I’ve become skeptical of my own skepticism about the company. It’s not so much that nearly a billion people can’t be wrong, but more that I know that I can be. (Especially when media sentiment is running so strongly in one direction.)
So, consider this the skeptic’s guide to the bull case for Facebook. Because, although you might not know it from the recent commentary, there is still a case for Facebook’s success and it is strong. 
Read more. [Image: Reuters]


Alexis Madrigal: contrarian techie FTW

theatlantic:

The Case for Facebook

Facebook just had modern history’s worst IPO and it’s down again today by some percentage that will be quoted endlessly.

Yet Facebook is still the world’s largest social media site with over 900 million users. And most importantly: Many of those people still visit the site each and every day, regardless of grumbling from cynics or short-term price fluctuations.

We’ve been hard on Facebook at times through the last year, particularly around issues ofprivacy. We will continue to report on them with the same rigor that we’ve maintained over the years. But as the company’s stock has fallen since its IPO, so many people are piling on with glee that I’ve become skeptical of my own skepticism about the company. It’s not so much that nearly a billion people can’t be wrong, but more that I know that I can be. (Especially when media sentiment is running so strongly in one direction.)

So, consider this the skeptic’s guide to the bull case for Facebook. Because, although you might not know it from the recent commentary, there is still a case for Facebook’s success and it is strong. 

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

Alexis Madrigal: contrarian techie FTW

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theatlantic:

How Google Can Beat Facebook Without Google Plus

Last year, Google, which had dabbled in official social-networking applications, released Google Plus. The site has all the things you’ve come to expect in a social network. There is a rich profile builder, a place for your photos, a nice videochat feature, a conversation feed, and, of course, “Circles,” which allow users to sort the people they know into different buckets. Word at the time was that Google’s full weight was behind this social push. The journalists who knew the company’s insiders best declared that Facebook was CEO Larry Page’s obsession.
I was bullish about Google Plus, even if it did feel like a Facebook clone. Google had built out a ton of infrastructure and was pushing Plus out through its major products. This had to be big!
But by most accounts and third-party research, the service is growing its number of users but not their engagement. People are “on” Google Plus, but they are not really ON Google Plus. The infrastructure is there. The street signs are there. People own plots of land. But there’s nobody actually visiting town.
Read more. [Image: Alexis Madrigal]


"Essentially, Google built a social "spine" for their services without building a service that developed into a compelling social offering. There is no meat on the social bone because Google thought of building a social network not as a means for you to connect with friends but as a means for you to connect with Google."
But what if Google is my best friend?!

theatlantic:

How Google Can Beat Facebook Without Google Plus

Last year, Google, which had dabbled in official social-networking applications, released Google Plus. The site has all the things you’ve come to expect in a social network. There is a rich profile builder, a place for your photos, a nice videochat feature, a conversation feed, and, of course, “Circles,” which allow users to sort the people they know into different buckets. Word at the time was that Google’s full weight was behind this social push. The journalists who knew the company’s insiders best declared that Facebook was CEO Larry Page’s obsession.

I was bullish about Google Plus, even if it did feel like a Facebook clone. Google had built out a ton of infrastructure and was pushing Plus out through its major products. This had to be big!

But by most accounts and third-party research, the service is growing its number of users but not their engagement. People are “on” Google Plus, but they are not really ON Google Plus. The infrastructure is there. The street signs are there. People own plots of land. But there’s nobody actually visiting town.

Read more. [Image: Alexis Madrigal]

"Essentially, Google built a social "spine" for their services without building a service that developed into a compelling social offering. There is no meat on the social bone because Google thought of building a social network not as a means for you to connect with friends but as a means for you to connect with Google."

But what if Google is my best friend?!

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"A considerable part of Facebook’s appeal stems from its miraculous fusion of distance with intimacy, or the illusion of distance with the illusion of intimacy. Our online communities become engines of self-image, and self-image becomes the engine of community. The real danger with Facebook is not that it allows us to isolate ourselves, but that by mixing our appetite for isolation with our vanity, it threatens to alter the very nature of solitude. The new isolation is not of the kind that Americans once idealized, the lonesomeness of the proudly nonconformist, independent-minded, solitary stoic, or that of the astronaut who blasts into new worlds. Facebook’s isolation is a grind. What’s truly staggering about Facebook usage is not its volume—750 million photographs uploaded over a single weekend—but the constancy of the performance it demands. More than half its users—and one of every 13 people on Earth is a Facebook user—log on every day. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, nearly half check Facebook minutes after waking up, and 28 percent do so before getting out of bed. The relentlessness is what is so new, so potentially transformative. Facebook never takes a break. We never take a break. Human beings have always created elaborate acts of self-presentation. But not all the time, not every morning, before we even pour a cup of coffee."

— Stephen Marche, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? - The Atlantic

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Nick, I love you, but this sounds a tad disingenuous.

Yes, you supply all the content, but you get the social situation that the network enables. Sure, it’d be nice to get more. Heck, I’d love an extra $50 (and presumably a yearly payment based on however much the company makes in ads), but that’s unrealistic to ask. Just as it would be unrealistic to ask for the cafe you mention in your article to give me a percent of their profit. Yeah, the food was good, but if a tech company is expected to give a customer more, why shouldn’t one in the food industry?

Also, about that cafe, it actually does benefit from the “information” that its customers “provide.” I put those words in quotes because the information isn’t processed and provided in the same way as it is on social networks, but it is certainly part of the business. When I stroll past that cafe and see it filled with upper-middle class patrons, I identify the business, however unconsciously (and problematically), as one worthy of my expendable income. By frequenting that cafe, those patrons aren’t just helping it by paying for food; they’re also endowing it with their social capital. The only thing different with social networks is that people (mostly consciously) give those networks that same capital (usually through a much more explicit way), and the networks are intelligently designed to best take advantage of said capital.

Speaking of capital, let’s pull this in a more Marxist direction, as I am worried about this ancillary point that Bilton raises: “Those without the skills needed in this new economy — other than to tweet and post pictures — can fall further behind economically.” My gut says this is a more structural economic issue than one that can be solved with a simple attack on a singular company (or even type of company). But in spite of that, I’m not sure what a solution would be. Other than socialism, which as a capitalist, I’m not a big fan of.

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Although I kind of agree with the conclusion (Tumblr is far cooler at this point), and I kind of like the now-that-it’s-gone-public-it’s-lame rationale, I completely disagree with some of its premises.

  1. "The generation which en masse hasn’t created anything worth noting except for debts on their parents credits cards. Anything, but Facebook.” This statement is two-fold ignorant. On the one hand, it pretends that Facebook isn’t a bit of a revolutionary creation that helped alter the way we use the Internet—pushing it from the searchable web to the social web. And on the other, could you please tell me what generation actually achieved anything substantial en masse when its prime constituents were in their twenties? (And, ya know, Facebook itself is somewhat substantial, see above, which means the millennials are kinda kicking Gen X to the curb on this point.) By the author’s own globalizing-based-solely-on-pop-culture-references logic, all Gen X ever did in their twenties was smoke pot and sing about conjunction junction.
  2. The article is riddled with instances of out-of-touch-ness (e.g., thinking that the only appropriate thing to wear to work is a suit and tie, referring to the “like” button as the “‘I like’ button,” and if I want to really be nitpicky, calling millennials “Gen Y’ers”). I dunno, it’s just weird to have someone so obviously not “with it,” so not “cool” trying to weigh in on a topic on which he is clearly not an expert. (Editorial Note: I openly own up to my not-cool-ness, which is why I normally don’t try to make statements on what is and isn’t cool and why I find it so odd when people who are more or less in my position cool-wise for some reason do.)
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Realization: Deleting all the old, embarrassing FB posts on your wall from whenever ago to ensure that potential employers/dates/friends/human-beings-with-whom-you-interact won’t easily discover the facts hidden behind them is like the modern day equivalent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for our teched out world. Sure, it’s inverted (you’re stopping people from knowing those memories, not yourself), but given how significant Facebook is when it comes to our identity and memory, it kind of is a sort of forgetting. If it isn’t Facebook official, it didn’t happen.

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That awkward moment when someone you became FB friends with about a month ago starts appearing in your “people you may know” pop-up box…

Oh, Facebook/its users. Gotta love it/them.

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brooklynmutt:

Don Draper Presents Facebook Timeline

Ha! If only Facebook timeline were a circle. Obviously that’ll be 2012’s big alteration. When we finally have 3D computer screens.

Link

jaredbkeller:

In January, Rob Walker had an excellent article in the New York Times magazine on “cyberspace when you’re deaddiscussing the relatively new phenomenon of dealing with the digital estates left behind by the recently deceased. Walker explores the rise of Facebook memorials and the new…

And this is a far more intellectual take on the new Facebook timeline. With which I agree. I’d only piggyback off it by saying that the timeline is somewhat creepy in that it seems to want to further trap our essence in the machine. Of course, the one and the other are the same, but I still get the sinking sensation of enframing at hand. (All of the puns.) And of course, I still lament the inevitable adjustment/transition period when it comes to altering my media habits, and the seeming hegemonic grasp and monopolistic mentality emerging from Facebook lately. I miss Heidegger.

(Source: jaredbkeller)

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Some final thoughts on all the new Facebook stuff (for now)

After some reading fun (thanks, Mashable!), I have a few more thoughts on the new Facebook upgrades.

  1. Marketers are gonna have to be less spammy. Yay! Minimizing spam and white noise is always good. I’m always up for more engaging messages from brands that I care enough about to “like.” However, I hope it doesn’t turn into brands commenting on things that I post that might pertain to their brand. As in, the example in the above article, I go for a run, and Nike posts something like “great jog!” Can brands post on their fans posts? I thought they couldn’t, but maybe they now can (again, inferring from the article, perhaps wrongly). Also, I don’t think “like” is going to become less important to marketers. It will just no longer be an end unto itself (was it ever?). With netting eyeballs becoming harder and harder, brands will need to become more creative to keep them, but that doesn’t change the fact that people still have to like said brands for any of that to matter (at least on FB). Perhaps the book has moved further into the realm of focusing on keeping users as opposed to gaining them, but it’s always a ballet between those two goals.
  2. Oh my god, you guys, it’s not that different. Visually, yes, and I’m not a big fan of it so far. (I get that the picture at the top is supposed to be like a banner, but how many people have great pictures just lying around that are so horizontal and perfect for that purpose? Other than photo snobs? Also, the boxy look isn’t clean and just reminds me of MySpace. But I’ve inarticulately said all this before. However, maybe it’ll improve its look over time as it works some bugs out. And maybe the boxes it eliminates will create a cleaner look overall? I dunno.) But when it comes to what it actually enables, it’s not that revolutionary. Obviously, 2012 Facebook is going to be completely different than 2004 Facebook, in terms of its underlying philosophy, but when it comes to that philosophy, it doesn’t seem like 2012 Facebook is going to differ that markedly from 2010 Facebook. We already could scroll through a user’s history on the site. It just took a really long time. This alteration makes it easier for people to do that. (Gotta admit, I’m kinda dying to apply it to my profile to see just what my first post was back in 2005.) But that isn’t a revolution; it’s a user-friendly tweak. (In a currently not-that-pretty look.)
  3. Related: All the other new stuff also isn’t that new. You already could "verb" any "noun." It was called updating your status. I get that this is different, but I don’t know that I’m on board with how it’s different. There was a simplicity with only being able to “like” something. Offhand, this mainly reminds me of all the emoticons you could apply on MySpace, which makes my skin crawl a bit. Of course, this could end up working out nicely if developers don’t go too crazy, but I won’t hold my breath. (Remember what happened when the first Facebook apps rolled out? The Super Friends or whatever box? I expect to see Farmville become a verb.) But again, I’m trying to reserve judgment. I suppose I’m mostly afraid of how this will affect my habits. I like Foursquare and Instagram, and I like linking them to Facebook and Twitter. (Predominately because that way I don’t have to post the same thing twice to different platforms.) But the new maps feature for Facebook does seem pretty cool. Will I leave Foursquare? Will I do both? Will I not use the maps feature and have a paltry timeline? Will the timeline recognize Foursquare in any way? (Please integrate it somehow; it would make my life so much easier.) Same applies to listening to music and watching videos. I already could do this, but now there’s a new way to do it that better meshes with the platform. How much do I gain by adopting it? More importantly, how much do I lose by not (again, based on the timeline feature).
  4. Then there’s the scrapbook aspect. This is cool, but, again, as I’ve already said, who is going to waste time to go back and repopulate their entire lives on Facebook? How narcissistic does Facebook think we are? And that is coming from someone who spends a good hour in front of a mirror every day. Purely for the sake of the view. And in addition to the "problem of getting married twice," there’s the problem of Facebook knowing where exactly info should be placed on the timeline. Going forward, it doesn’t seem this’ll be a problem, because if you add any old content, you’ll presumably upload it on a certain point on the timeline. But what about pictures a friend added a year ago of you three years ago? Logically, those would end up a year ago on your timeline, not three years ago. Will you be able to change that? These aren’t major concerns, to be sure, but just throwing out some minor flaws for the sake of it.

Overall, the upgrades seem helpful, but I’m interested to see how they’ll affect media habits (my big concern), whether or not they’ll turn Facebook into the new MySpace (my big fear), and how the users will react (can Facebook be defeated at this point?).

I also don’t understand why they changed the newsfeed one week and the profiles the next week. They don’t necessarily go together, and they could have very easily been spaced out by about a half a year to give people less ammo against the company. (Too much too soon!) All this leaves me remembering a line from Friends (always a good sign, amirite): “Well, you don’t want to try too many things too fast. You know what happened to the girl who tried too many things too fast? Yeah, she died.” (The delivery works better when it’s coming from Jennifer Aniston, oddly enough.)