I finally joined Facebook on Sunday night, following up on a month-old invitation from my friend Thomas Crampton to join the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Facebook (I kid you not, there is such a thing). I joined the bricks-and-mortar FCC in Hong Kong for a chunk of money after all, so why not join this virtual one for free?
I still don't know if Facebook will be particularly useful or worth my time in any kind of logical, professional sense, but it certainly is a lot more entertaining than Linked-In, (the professional networking site whose main use to me is showing off my resume and some of the cool people I know). Upon logging in and setting up my profile, I immediately discovered that a large percentage of the people I always run into at technology and media conferences, lots of Global Voices people, many journalists I know, a smattering of former colleagues, and a number of my students are already there, advocating causes, forming professional or hobby-oriented groups, and adding cool widgets onto their personal pages. Rachel Rawlins scrawled some welcoming "graffiti" on my virtual "wall." Kaiser Kuo dropped by to ask "what took you so long?" and a guy I hired for a job back in the late 90's snarks: "It's great to see all the grown-ups here! And all the former bosses! :)"
He's right. Since Facebook opened up to people with non-university e-mails in September the "grownups and the bosses" have invaded in a major way.
Speaking at the World Journalism Education Congress last month, the BBC's Alex Gerlis said that over 3000 BBC journalists recently joined Facebook in the space of a month - partly because of the Virginia Tech shooting and the need to find student eyewitnesses to the events there, but also to network with people who are making news and driving the tech and media industries. Specific shows are also using Facebook for viewer relations. The thing has reached critical mass.
Just the other day, Mark Glaser at Mediashift mused about why older people are suddenly joining Facebook in droves, suggesting several reasons:
- They can feel hip and young by being on a social networking site set up specifically for people younger than them.
- They can experience social networking first-hand after reading about it and talking about it without the experience.
- They can put themselves into the shoes of the younger generation, of their kids.
- Facebook has a clean, simple layout, unlike the more cluttered MySpace.
- Facebook opened itself up to any third-party developer, making itself a more thriving platform.
Meanwhile longtime users of MySpace around the globe, including this blogger in South Africa, are reporting a major migration of their friends from MySpace to Facebook.
Danah Boyd, a Berkman Fellow at Harvard and expert in youth internet culture, social networking, recently wrote a fascinating paper about class divisions between Facebook and MySpace. As she describes it, these divisions have taken shape since Facebook opened up to anybody, enabling high school kids to join for the first time a domain that was once the exclusive territory of college students.
An example of class divisions can be seen from social networking preferences in the U.S. military: MySpace (used mainly by enlisted servicepeople) is blocked by the U.S. military internet connections while Facebook (used by officers) is allowed.
Amongst high school students, she finds:
The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.
MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.
Read the whole thing, and also see Ethan Zuckerman's notes from a talk Danah recently gave at Harvard here. She ends her paper with a provocative final question: "what does it mean in a digital world where no one's supposed to know you're a dog, we can guess your class background based on the tools you use?"
What's more, the "good kids" can now network with the "bosses" through the Facebook groups and causes we're all joining - from the Barack Obama group to the Creative Commons Facebook group, to Georgia Popllewell's "Beach House Trinidad"...
Question for any students and young professionals out there: do you find Facebook a useful way to network for jobs?
Question for "bosses": Here's the scenario: You are interviewing two equally qualified job candidates with equally strong references and recommendations. You met Candidate A on a Facebook group while you've never encountered Candidate B before, online or offline. Are you more likely to hire Candidate A? Does it make no difference? Or are other factors more important in your decision? Be honest.
UPDATE: Pete Cashmore at Mashable reports that Facebook users, now at 30 million, doubled since the start of this year.
UPDATE 2: Thanks to Kaiser for pointing out the very funny WSJ article I missed about the awkward moments of a 24 year old whose 30-something boss "friended" him on Friendster, what to do when a client who "friends" you turns out to have semierotic photos of himself on his page, etc. Quote of the day: "When you see your client's pubic bone, something has changed."