Friday, August 3, 2007

Facebook is for Real

After disengaging from the web digerati for about 5 years, I’ve heard an awful lot about Facebook since pulling my head out of the sand a few months ago.

Mostly what I read about seemed to be the Facebook CEO’s (and apparently just about everyone else who works there) penchant for wearing flip-flops . About a month ago, I tried it out: it wanted access to my e-mail address book and I wasn’t interested in doing that.

But over the last month I’ve been reading about Facebook being the new AOL, and having a valuation of anywhere between a half billion to TEN BILLION DOLLARS. That’s an awful lot of flip-flops.

Then Jason Calacanis declared Facebook Bankruptcy , which I took as the bellwether that Facebook was legitimate. I began my quest for information by asking Jason what he’d miss about Facebook if he stopped using it (his response is here) and extended this research out to informally asking people about their Facebook usage where the opportunity presented itself.

My “research” is highly anecdotal, representing feedback from almost 30 people. There seems to be a line somewhere and I am arbitrarily drawing it at around the age of 30. The under 30 crowd is using Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family and as a way to get dates, get laid, etc. In terms of usage, I don’t get any sense that the Facebook under 30 crowd utilizes Facebook much differently than the MySpace under 30 crowd utilizes MySpace.

But there’s a big difference: the over 30 crowd. While I’m sure the over 30 crowd also uses Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends, get dates, etc., there is an aspect going on with Facebook that never seemed to happen on MySpace. Facebook is being used as a “business networking tool” and people are using it frequently.

While still not giving Facebook access to my contact list, I did add some friends, just to see what would happen. I started small adding 10 people. I figured seven of them would just “add me”, and then I threw in Bill Gates and Steve Case just, they had Facebook pages. I would’ve added Ted Leonsis, but he didn’t have a Facebook page. Mark Cuban did, but I figure I probably need to come up with some killer application leveraging the Intranet before asking.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t hear back from Bill Gates and Steve Case yet, but what surprised me was just how fast 5 out of my 7 added me. These are all hardworking people with jobs, so they are interacting with their Facebook’s very regularly. Via one friend, I saw someone I used to know 10 years ago, so I added him. The turnaround on that, also very fast.

So Facebook is encroaching on “Linked-In” territory for business networking, and with all the buzz it has going for it, I won’t be surprised to see many more people over 30 adding themselves to Facebook and using it as a cross between social networking, LinkedIn, and the sales contact tools of yore like ACT, Organizer etc. I have heard many people who are seemingly disenchanted with Facebook, but the curious thing, and too Facebook’s credit, all the disenchanted seem to use it anyway.

I still think the predominance of growth in the coming months will be with the under 30 crowd. MySpace is currently getting a lot more usage than Facebook despite all Facebook’s buzz in the Valley. Most of Facebook’s growth is going to come from MySpace users trying out Facebook. But it seems like Facebook has an opportunity with the over 30 crowd that MySpace lacks.

While there is much buzz about Facebook as a development platform, when it came to my informal survey, nobody cared too much about any of these applications , in fact, less than 25% of the people I spoke with used any applications other than what you get by default, and the rest were using the usual suspects (music and photo sharing widgets). I think “Facebook as development platform” is genius in terms of Facebook’s marketing, but in reality, I’m not sure that’s really a big deal at all other than Facebook getting more attention as a result of it and that can’t be bad for Facebook at this point.

Update: Arrington reports on Bear Stearns' analysis (Yahoo Needs Social Networking) and there is some good data on social networking categories, age of users, etc.

1 comment:

Jeremiah McNichols said...

This is a very thoughtful and interesting post. I turned 31 two days ago and I also just started using Facebook for the second time. A few years ago I worked at a university and supervised a bunch of student workers, so they got me into Facebook when it was still college-only, and I originally signed up for it because it proved an excellent applicant screening tool for weeding out the heavy drinkers. It turned out it was also a fun way to interact with them. Then I left that job and almost immediately my usage of Facebook dropped off, even though that would have been the best way to keep in touch with those friends. The application just didn't fit in with others I made serious time for, which centered more and more around my Google account.

Now I am back on Facebook, as of only a couple of weeks. I went back and quickly realized how many people I had met through blogging and elsewhere were also on Facebook, and now I do use it as a networking tool for blogging if not for business. If I could monitor my Gmail on it, watch web traffic on my blogs, do Google Talk and have a Google search bar that loaded searches into a new Firefox tab I would probably use it as a home page.

I see that your Madcast widget is not yet functional. I'm having the same experience.