Now that Facebook is open to the public, I’ve joined up and wandered through. I’m a social software buff, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.
Networks and Exclusivity
Facebook started out as an exclusive network for college kids, and that still shows. It is still divided into networks based on schools, workplaces, and geographical regions (the last of which anyone can join). To get into the school or workplace networks, you need an email address that proves your affiliation. I don’t have one for my alma mater, and I’m not terribly keen on adding my work affiliation.
Profiles and Access
The clean profiles are more reminiscent of Friendster than MySpace. On the one hand, there’s less customization and personalization. On the other hand, you’re not constantly pulling up some garish vision of Hades, a cacophony of top 40 vitriol that will forever haunt your dreams. So you got that going for you. The message seems to be, “We’re a bit more civilized over here, a bit more mature, as evidenced by the many photographs of my alcohol drinking escapades, which is what grownups do.”
You can only see the full profiles of your friends and those in your networks (and there are ways to further restrict your profile). To clarify, you can verify the existence of just about everyone on there, using browse and search features. But if they’re not in one of your networks, you only see a thumbnail and are limited to sending them a message or adding them as friends. So even though there are millions of members, I can only see the profiles of those in my regional network, which has about 50K people. You can switch regional networks, but only once every 60 days. This is especially annoying for those like me who live on the border of another regional network. I can switch, but I can’t be in both.
This is probably another reason why Facebook has been called a “walled garden” and the AOL of today. In addition to the general Internet public being kept out, virtual walls exist between the different internal groups. It seems I also can’t see the profiles of those in my regional network who are underage. There are various search/browse filters that can weed them out for you, but I still appreciate the extra layer of protection, because you really can’t tell by the photographs anymore, and Facebook is filled with HS kids.
Once you start browsing profiles (or just looking at your own), you realize there is virtually no anonymity. Just about everyone goes by their full name. It also makes it much easier to find people by name, especially when compared to sites like MySpace.
I think this also affects how you craft your identity on the site. You’re probably a bit more cautious. Not as cautious as you would be on LinkedIn, but still… Age, of course, is a factor; the younger the person the “riskier” the profile. This happens a lot: you’ll see a thumbnail of a hot chick in a bikini, instinctively click on it, and see the profile is blocked because she’s in high school. Perhaps this behavior stems from when the virtual walls kept all non-students out, most importantly parents and younger siblings. Or maybe there are just a lot of young girls with poor decision making skills, as Masterchief would say.
The user base skews young, as you’d expect from a site that was students-only until a few months ago. I’m pretty far from ancient, but after uploading my Outlook contacts file it only found two friends already registered. I’ve also seen other user data that shows most members are in school or within 5 years of graduation. You also see a mix of people like me with very few connections, and college students or recent grads with over 100 friends. You hear a lot of buzz about how this is going to be the next big network, but if so, it’s going to start with students and move forward. A lot of people will have more friends on MySpace, and that will continue until the current teens and 20-somethings start aging.
It also has more of a dating feel than MySpace (closer to Friendster, I guess). Probably because the basic profile questions are similar to sites like Match.com. At the same time, it doesn’t go nearly as far as a dedicated dating site, and seems a little strange to use it as one. I did find a rather brilliant 3rd party application called Matches. It allows you to anonymously communicate your interest to someone. They get notified they have a secret admirer, but your identity isn’t revealed until they indicate they’re also interested in you. If this sounds familiar, I blogged about this feature earlier when American Singles added it.
Perhaps because of the dating feel, it feels weird to include work related info – like mixing business and pleasure. I’ll leave the professional networking to LinkedIn, which I’m also on.
There are a few ways to interact with other users without resorting to messaging them. Networks have message boards and something called “The Wall”. Walls are like MySpace comments, and your profile has one too, but you’re not prevented from writing on your own wall – a nice improvement. And there are groups, but they’re listed alphabetically, so it’s hard to find popular, active groups, unless it’s a top 10 group in your network. That’s included in the basic network stats.
3rd Party Apps
Garnering recent buzz in the developer community was the Facebook Platform, which allows you to create plugins (“applications” in Facebook parlance) for Facebook users. So far the popular ones include those that display your music playlists, what states/countries you’ve been to, a virtual white board for visitors to scribble graffiti, and the aforementioned Matches app.
It’s interesting, and I can see how it’s a must for college-oriented people. As these people continue to enter the workforce and interact with older peers, membership will grow. Right now, I’m not sure that all regions have reached the critical mass to offer a real community experience, and you may find you want to switch to an outside region just to have access to more people. Or you can just stick with MySpace until I build something better for the rest of us.