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I’ve been on the internet for over 20 years. When I initially got on the net I remember interacting with people who lived in England, and it was so cool! At one point I recall getting into a talk session with someone who lived in Ecuador. If you lived through the era of Wired circa 1995 to 1999 you remember all the talk about how the internet was going to make location irrelevant, and we were going to congeal into a world cross-linked by cyber-connections. In the mid-2000s the Second Life boomlet brought back some of those feelings, but that faded.

Unlike many Americans I have a lot of family abroad. One of my Facebook friends is my cousin who happens to be a religious teacher and brought up in Tablighi Jamaat by an uncle who has long been a partisan of that movement. I know this cousin a bit (I met him when I visited Bangladesh in 1990 and 2004), and he’s a nice enough fellow. He even likes some of my personal events (e.g., the births of my children). We’ve had chat sessions here and there. Since my “religion” is put as “atheist” on my profile he also knows that about me (he double-checked with me when he became my Facebook friend).

I bring all this up because I hardly ever interact with the cousins who are on Facebook who live abroad. Rather, my Facebook feed is mostly devoted to those who I grew up with in the states, and in particular those who I work with, or went to school with recently. Basically what you’d expect. Facebook has over 1 billion users, but we’re all in our own cultural silos, chattering amongst ourselves. This isn’t totally surprising, and today it seems banal. Yes, there are millions of people from India on Facebook, but they’re not part of my social graph, and won’t be…unless they immigrate to the United States.

When the internet was young we didn’t anticipate many things about its later development. One was that rather than transforming our social networks, it would simply facilitate them. Yes, e-mail and Facebook have changed the way we interact and socialize. But they’ve probably just amplified and smoothed preexisting trends, rather than change the underlying dynamic.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Facebook 
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fb_icon_325x325Long time readers know that around 2010 I was a Facebook skeptic. I would periodically check Google Trends results, and post them, to illustrate that the phase of exponential growth was ending (you saw that in user base too). The Social Network film also seemed to herald the top of the cultural influence of Facebook. Well, whatever the search engine terms are, as a matter of business viability it seems that I was wrong, Facebook has not peaked. The fact that I stopped talking about Facebook is a clue to that, since I would no doubt be posting my vindication if I had been right. But I thought admitting I was wrong in public might be useful, in particular since others are.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Facebook 
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I check on this every 6 months or so. Here’s the search trend for Facebook:

Everyone basically knows about Facebook now. Contrast this with Twitter:


All that being said, Twitter has such a smaller footprint compared to Facebook that it seems obvious that it will “peak” far below Facebook in both mindshare and public utilization. I do find it interesting that Facebook peaked literally months about The Social Network.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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Most readers know that I’ve been tracking Google Trends data on Facebook for years. Now on January 1 2012 It seems pretty obviously that in the international aggregate this was the year that Facebook finally hit saturation in terms of “mindshare.”

But there are interesting international differences.


United States:

United Kingdom:

France:

Germany:

Italy:

Russia:

India:

Brazil:

Here’s Facebook vs. Orkut in Brazil:

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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You’ve probably read The New York Times article, The Facebook Resisters. One of the “resisters” struck me as kind of weird:

Tyson Balcomb quit Facebook after a chance encounter on an elevator. He found himself standing next to a woman he had never met — yet through Facebook he knew what her older brother looked like, that she was from a tiny island off the coast of Washington and that she had recently visited the Space Needle in Seattle.

“I knew all these things about her, but I’d never even talked to her,” said Mr. Balcomb, a pre-med student in Oregon who had some real-life friends in common with the woman. “At that point I thought, maybe this is a little unhealthy.”

Is this really novel? Haven’t you heard all about people on some occasions and just happened never to run into them? I think the big deal is confusing social networking technologies as a qualitative difference when they’re quantitative. They extend, they don’t transform. And it isn’t as if Facebook is special. You can find all sorts of things about Tyson Balcomb online.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook 
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Slate has an interesting retrospective on why Second Life never fulfilled the hype. My own caution was rooted in an argument from a tech journalist who pointed out that the exact same things stated about Second Life were once stated about MUDs. He actually simply repeated quotes from stories in the early to mid-1990s and compared them to those in 2006 to illustrate how the same passages were being recycled again. He knew about the power of the hype, because he participated in the first wave before it faded. Of course Second Life was much more sophisticated than any MUD,but it struck me that when the same reasoning is applied to a more perfected version of the phenomenon the same outcome may ensue.

In other news, Facebook’s plateau continues….

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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The prince of neurobloggers Jonah Lehrer has a good if curious column up at the Wall Street Journal, Social Networks Can’t Replace Socializing. He concludes:

This doesn’t mean that we should stop socializing on the web. But it does suggest that we reconsider the purpose of our online networks. For too long, we’ve imagined technology as a potential substitute for our analog life, as if the phone or Google+ might let us avoid the hassle of getting together in person.

But that won’t happen anytime soon: There is simply too much value in face-to-face contact, in all the body language and implicit information that doesn’t translate to the Internet. (As Mr. Glaeser notes, “Millions of years of evolution have made us into machines for learning from the people next to us.”) Perhaps that’s why Google+ traffic is already declining and the number of American Facebook users has contracted in recent months.

These limitations suggest that the winner of the social network wars won’t be the network that feels the most realistic. Instead of being a substitute for old-fashioned socializing, this network will focus on becoming a better supplement, amplifying the advantages of talking in person.

For years now, we’ve been searching for a technological cure for the inefficiencies of offline interaction. It would be so convenient, after all, if we didn’t have to travel to conferences or commute to the office or meet up with friends. But those inefficiencies are necessary. We can’t fix them because they aren’t broken.


First, let me offer up that if I had to pick between my twitter, Facebook, or Google+, I’d pick the last. At this point twitter is better in my opinion at allowing me to “sample” from the stream of news/links than Google+, where people tend to be more verbose. In contrast if I want to see how cute the babies of my college friends are getting to be, Facebook all the way. But the conversations on Google+ are much better when it comes to people I may interact with today, rather than the past. Facebook keeps me up to date on my past, and twitter tells me what the wider world is concerned with, but Google+ is the best complement to my present social life (which, to be fair, is not typical because of my quasi-public existence).

All that being said, some of you might wonder why Jonah even would be allowed to write such a banal column. Doesn’t everyone know that social networking technologies are not going to change our need for physical contact? No, everyone doesn’t know. There are pundits who are asserting the revolutionary transformative nature of the social web. As Jonah observes this has come and gone many a time. Remember Second Life?

I do have friends in real life who contend that Facebook and company many actually allow us to shatter Dunbar’s number. I am skeptical. The reason is that our cognitive natures are not universally plastic.

We’ve got great general domain intelligence in comparison to other species. Even though it is slow and laborious in comparison to our innate cognitive toolkit, it is incredibly flexible and extensible. Technologies which amplify the power of domain general intelligence are game changers. Writing and digital computers are examples of such extenders. The decline of the art of memory and slide rule illustrates the power of this sort of technology to be progressive. What was indispensable in the past is quickly forgotten, and shown to be the utility it always was (I suspect many of you don’t know what a slide rule is, despite its ubiquity two generations ago!). In this there is a resemblance toward science.

In contrast, consider something like sexual technology. The verisimilitude of visual pornography is incredible (in fact, sometimes too good insofar as make-up artists on porn sets are having a harder and harder time covering up blemishes and imperfections). There is an enormous industry of sex toys, and sex dolls are getting better and better. Obviously there’s a huge demand for such products and services. But will these ever possibly replace real sex? Imagine a near future sex doll with artificially generated body temperatures and synthesized human skin. Even without this some people are claiming that porn is substituting for real sexual relationships.

Such a substitution will not happen in the near future. That’s because our pleasure, our utility, of experience derives not just from its pure sensory input, but also our model of its essential nature. We have not only beliefs, but also aliefs. The knowledge that you’re having sex with a human being counts for something in and of itself. The knowledge that you own the original painting counts for something. The knowledge that a book was once owned by someone famous counts for something. We have deeply ingrained preferences which are not simply dependent on the substance or style of something. There are part of a broader constellation of our understanding of the world.

Jonah correctly points out that communication via social technologies don’t transmit a lot of implicit and subtle cues which you can obtain through sensory input face to face. That’s a matter of substance. But ultimately people will put a premium on face to face interaction even when teleconferencing technology becomes much better at transmitting sensory information. That’s because humans are social beings, and to a great extend socialization in the proximate sense (as opposed to evolutionary) is not a means, but an ends. We enjoy spending time with flesh and blood humans beings. The only way this will change is through a deep re-write of low level cognitive code.

Addendum: The above generalizations are relevant for most, but not all, human beings.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Cognitive Science, Facebook, Google, Technology, Twitter 
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I am only being added to Google+ “circles” at a clip of half a dozen per day. This is off the peak of nearly 20 or so per day a little over a week ago. I’m now at nearly 500 people in my Google circles, though only 5 were individuals whom I added proactively. I honestly have no idea who 2/3 of these people are, though it seems that most of them know me through my blogs. About ~75 people I know rather well, though fewer than 50 are people who I’ve met in real life (many of these only once or twice). In contrast on Facebook there are hundreds of people I’ve met and known and know in real life. Very few of my college or high school friends have “added me” to their circles. In contrast, the people who I am socially engaged with currently have added me. It’s like Google+ is a vast and shallow circle extending outward into my present social space, both explicit (people I know) and implicit (those who know me through my web presence). In contrast Facebook has more historical depth. Though it’s been around a lot longer too, so the comparison isn’t fair.


Meanwhile, Google+ has hit a major snag with their “real names” policy. If there’s one thing that Facebook has learned, it’s that you better be responsive after a major mistake. After a few weeks of Google+ I think most people agreed that Google “got” the social web. But at this point I’m not so sure. I don’t have a major opinion about their policies, but their public relations hasn’t been optimal.

Finally, I have to add that right now my Google+ “stream” is far more dynamic and value-added than my Facebook wall. There’s way more commentary and response. That’s partly a function of the excitement over the new platform, but I wonder if circles has energized many people. I’m not a major user at this point, but I have used Google+ in a way I wouldn’t have on Facebook because of the ease of narrow-casting.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Google, Technology 
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Over the past few weeks I’ve seen several media stories profiling the rise of Google+ by noting that hoopla also greeted Google Wave and Google Buzz before their expiration as “It” technologies. This caveat was probably more true for Google Wave, which heralded the revolution which no one seemed anxious for (“what if we designed email now?!?!?!”). Buzz was a public relations disaster from its inception. When I first posted on Google+ I asserted that it was not in the same category as Wave or Buzz, and that was in a good way. By that, I meant that taking Google+ for a test drive I thought I’d stick around for at least a bit. I didn’t get that sense with Wave, and proactively shut down Buzz in my Gmail account. But that’s an N of 1, me. Over the past few weeks though friends have been joining Google+, and real conversations have been starting. I’ve consciously avoided adding anyone to my Google+ circle proactively, rather I have been reciprocally adding them. I’m at 300+ now. Right now the people in my circles are much closer in profile to my twitter account than my Facebook. That’s probably not typical, as I am a quasi-public individual (looking at who I share in common with those I’m adding to my circles it seems that some of my journalist friends and acquaintances are replicating their twitter followings as well, and that’s how people are finding me).

In any case, I have some non-anecdotal data that Google+ is not replicating the paths of Wave of Buzz. Google Trends. It’s early yet, so I don’t think that Google+ has “peaked” in terms of news or search by any means (if it’s successful), but it’s already surpassed the other two offerings:


(recall that Buzz’s spike in news volume had a lot to do with its huge privacy failures, so it wasn’t good news)

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
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There’s an amusing story up at The New York Times on the activity surrounding Mark Zuckerberg’s Google+ account. Zuckerberg is of course just scoping out the competition. Here’s the heartening part:

So far, Google’s new social service has generated positive comments from those with early access, in a turnabout from Google’s earlier attempts to woo the masses with social services like Wave and Buzz, which were met with lackluster responses and concerns over privacy.

Stephen Shankland, a writer for the technology news service CNet, said that Circles, a feature that lets people sort their friends into groups for more private sharing, was “the biggest improvement, far and away, over Facebook.” Adam Pash, a blogger at Lifehacker, described the service’s Hangout feature, which lets people video chat with as many as 10 friends simultaneously, as “the best free video chat we’ve seen.”

Even Tom Anderson, a co-founder of MySpace who was famous for being every MySpace user’s first “friend,” weighed in on his Google+ page, saying the service “does seem like it could take a bite out of Twitter.”

“We’re in the early days of making the Web more social, and there are opportunities for innovation everywhere,” said Jonny Thaw, a spokesman for the company.

Remember the “browser wars” of the late 1990s? To a great extent they were a media concoction. They gave rise both to “Netscape Time,” and the bloated piece of junk which was the Netscape Communicator of 1998. And yet the competition did push innovation and create a better product for the consumer. This was clear in the early 2000s when Internet Explorer had a de facto monopoly, and the browser and the web went into a period of technological stagnation. The emergence of Firefox woke Microsoft from its slumber, though at this point it might never catch up on the non-mobile web. The newest version of IE is alright, but IE share of the market keeps declining.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Google, Technology 
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Google Circles knockoff hits Facebook courtesy of unofficial plug-in:

…Circle Hack is a self-described “one-night experiment with Javascript” created by a few Facebook engineers in a non-affiliated capacity, which unofficially brings Google Circles-like functionality to the top social network. The creators of the Facebook plug-in have borrowed liberally from Google on this one (turnabout is fair play, perhaps)….

This is great. At a minimum Google+ could become like the Chrome browser. It might not attain a dominant market share position (though Chrome already has a higher share than IE on this site, and others, with a tech-savvy audience), but it could push the edge of innovation. I don’t have a problem with Facebook, but with the collapse of MySpace years ago it has had a de facto monopoly in the general social networking space.

Finally, an anecdatum: a friend noticed that six of his contacts deactivated their Facebook accounts in the past few days. He didn’t know why, but there’s a high probability that these may be the types who just want to start over like Ezra Klein suggested.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Google, Technology 
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I’ve been playing around with Google+ a little today. Farhad Manjoo no like, More Like Google Minus:

… First, I don’t know whom the company thinks it’s kidding; Google+ is obviously a direct competitor to Facebook. Given the large overlap in functionality, I can’t imagine that many people will use Google+ and Facebook simultaneously. For most of us, it will be one or the other. Google+’s success, then, will rest in large part on Google’s ability to convince people to ditch Facebook for the new site. For that, Google+ will have to offer some compelling view of social networking that’s substantially different from what’s available on Facebook. And that’s where Google+ baffles me. What is so compelling about Google+ that I can’t currently get on Facebook or Twitter? Or Gmail, for that matter? At the moment, I can’t tell….

But circles are nothing new. Facebook has offered several ways to break your network into smaller chunks for many years now, and it has worked constantly to refine them. And you know what? Almost no one uses those features. Only 5 percent of Facebookers keep “Lists,” Facebook’s first attempt for people to categorize their friends. Recognizing that “Lists” weren’t great, last year the site unveiled a new way to manage your friends, called “Groups.” I was optimistic that “Groups” would help to compartmentalize Facebook, but from what I can tell, few people use that feature, either.

Since Google+ is not “prime time” I’m not going to judge it too much. The interface feels a lot zippier and more fluid than Facebook’s, but that might just be because there are hundreds of millions of people using Facebook. Unlike Manjoo I do think that the idea of “circles” is not without merit. I tried Facebook’s Lists, and it just plain didn’t work the way it was supposed to work, so I gave up. Right now I, along with others, slice and dice my online voice across different platforms. twitter for public interaction, Facebook for semi-public interaction.

When you have friends you know through science blogging, transhumanism, right-wing politics, high school, not to mention cousins who were raised in the Tablighi subculture, Facebook’s one-size-fits-all tendency of throwing them into a big pot has been kind of suboptimal. Then again, most people probably don’t manifest as much dilettantism as I do, leading them to have a much more well “sorted” social set.

I will say though that Google+ doesn’t seem as patently useless as Wave and Buzz were. But if you haven’t gotten an invite, you aren’t missing out on much. There is no way this should warrant the hysteria which was the norm when Gmail first rolled out and required invites.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Google, Technology 
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BusinessWeek‘s The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace is a compelling read. But a huge piece of the puzzle which I thought was omitted was that Myspace was incubated in the short term bottom-feeder world to begin with, so the later fixation on revenue now rather than a long term vision may simply have been part of its original DNA. See this Planet Money podcast, MySpace Was Born Of Total Ignorance. Also Porn And Spyware, for what I’m talking about. As it is in the BusinessWeek piece Chris DeWolfe just tries to blame News Corp. Remember that DeWolfe and Tom Anderson sold out to Rupert Murdoch, while Mark Zuckerberg was uninterested in an immediate cash windfall. As far as the long term impact of Myspace I notice that the Urban Dictionary entry for ‘myspace angle’ is still more fleshed out than ‘facebook angle’, so the word “myspace” might still get preserved in this manner. In this way Myspace may resemble the audio cassette, which is still haunting our culture as the “mixtape”. Not surprisingly some young people are totally unaware that the tape portion actually refers to cassette tapes, since that technology was before their time.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology, Web 2.0 
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Three weeks ago I observed that Google trend data indicated that Facebook had finally plateaued in its growth in the USA. Today a story on data from Inside Facebook:

Facebook just lost a few faces. Six million users in the U.S. ditched their Facebook accounts last month. And the number of people using the site during the month of May also fell in Canada, Russia and the U.K. That’s according to new data from a company called Inside Facebook.

According to their data June 1st 2010 to June 1st 2011 Facebook grew ~20% in the USA, vs ~50% worldwide. There’s lots of room for growth in the rest of the world, but it may be that like the internet overall Facebook has hit its saturation point in the developed English speaking world. And I’m pretty happy with that. I get a lot fewer requests for annoying apps like “Mafia Wars.” Now that the novelty has worn off people are using the “social graph” tools of Facebook as background utilities (and since I have a set of “Facebook friends” who use twitter, I suspect that that’s cannibalizing some of the stuff that would otherwise be posted to Facebook).

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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I’ve been using Google Trends to track the rise of Facebook and the fall of MySpace for years. To my surprise Facebook has kept ascending up the Google search traffic for years past when I thought it would hit diminishing marginal returns of mind-share (I assumed it would level off in 2008). But it looks like it has finally reached a “mature” phase in 2011. First, let’s compare Facebook, Myspace, and Google in 2008. The following is search traffic on Google for the whole world….

Now for the past 12 months….


MySpace keeps drifting down to cultural irrelevance. Google holds steady, as it has for a while now. But finally you see the possibility that Facebook’s search traffic growth has started leveling off in 2011. The pattern is more evident when you look at all years:

Please note: I am not saying that Facebook is going to go through a MySpace like implosion. Google has been a “mature” company for at least a half a decade. Despite its leveling off of growth from its early years it is still a force to be reckoned with. Even firms like Microsoft, which seem to be collecting de facto rents from the successes of the 1990s, have years of being flush in front of them. But unless Facebook executes and implements another Big Idea I think we’re viewing it in the early stages of ripening. No doubt media coverage will explode before its I.P.O., but there won’t be massive gains in influence and “mind-share” due to endogenous parameters driven by the firm itself.

These trend lines also validate the urban-wisdom that becoming the “Person of the Year” marks the point of saturation, beyond which you’ll hit the zone of sharply diminishing returns. Facebook’s trend data levels off right when Time‘s story on Mark Zuckerberg hit the newsstands.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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That seems to be what John Dvorak is saying, Why I Don’t Use Facebook:

Which begs the question as to why anyone would use Facebook when it is essentially AOL done right? The fastest growing group on Facebook are people in their 70′s. Oldsters are flocking to Facebook the way they once did with AOL. Facebook is a simple system for the masses that do not really care about technology and do not want to learn anything new except something easy like Facebook.

Whenever someone tells me to check out something on Facebook, I recall the heyday of AOL with its keywords. “Go to the Internet at www.blah.com or AOL keyword: blah.” This was a common comment on the nightly news or in magazines. The AOL keyword is replaced by the Facebook page name.

There is no reason for anyone with any chops online to be remotely involved with Facebook, except to peruse it for lost relatives. So, next time you log on, remember it’s really AOL with a different layout.
Welcome to the past.

In broad qualitative strokes this seems about right. I’ve been hearing the Facebook-is-AOL analogy for years, and there are obvious similarities. I do have a Facebook page, but I don’t use it for much. If I want to say something that’s not substantial enough for a blog post, off to twitter. If I want to throw a few thousand words at a few thousand people, well, you know where I’m going to go with that. And of course, there’s razib.com if someone wants to find/contact me.


But I’m not a typical internet user. I use Ubuntu every day. That’s not typical behavior. ~90% of personal computers have only Windows installed (I have a dual boot by the way, I’m not an OS zealot). That’s how Microsoft makes bank, but it’s not exactly a world-changing corporation right now (OK, last I checked it was more about Office in any case).

If I had to hazard a prediction, I would say that Facebook isn’t going to crash & burn like AOL. It has a good angle, and a huge market share. But it is fast approaching its mature business model. The idea that it will cannibalize the whole world wide web and strangle Google is ridiculous. Facebook is useful, but not indispensable, for “power” internet users. Your mom’s time spent on Facebook will yield a great deal of advertising dollars, but it isn’t going to transform the world. At some point many are going to wonder if it is useful to be a member of a club which will let anyone in. From their 13 year old brother to their 80 year old grandmother.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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A tale of three firms via Google Trends. I’ve been checking in on Facebook’s numbers in Google Trends for years to see if I can see evidence of plateauing. Not quite yet. Interestingly all three companies were drawing similar search traffic on Google at the end of 2008, after which Myspace began its long descent, while Facebook had an inverted trajectory, and Yahoo! kept muddling along….
fac

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, has a breathless take on the rise of Facebook and its impending assault on Google in The Daily Beast. There’s a lot of hyperbole and Facebook-cheering throughout the piece, but this bold but unsupported assertion caught my attention:

Email is, as we all know, a horribly broken system. It is what almost all of us lean on the most heavily to get our work done. Yet we all know it is inefficient and unwieldy. Now Facebook’s innovations aim to use its so-called “social graph,” the set of relationships you have with another user, to remake daily electronic communication.


Who is this we you speak of David? Au contraire, as a victim of the Robert Lavelle spam of the late 1990s I think the current dispensation is so much more heavenly! True, unlike the spring of 1995 I don’t greet “you have new mail!” with great excitement. Whereas in 1995 an email from a foreign country aroused anticipation, today I am more likely to suspect that something has made it through the spam filter if it is not of American provenance. But speaking of spam, whatever happened to that? Yes, things do really get better, and the dikes sometimes do hold the sea back.

And as a counterpoint to David Kirkpatrick’s argument I would assert that Facebook has improved my experience of email. With the rise of Facebook I get far fewer short messages from my friends. Hardly any carbon-copy lists. I’ve also removed subscription to e-lists. In short, Facebook sucked up all the social candy from my inbox, leaving it dominated by more substantive material which warrants real attention (or, emails from publicists and such which are easily ignored if not worthy of deeper inspection).

I expressed skepticism earlier about Zadie Smith’s fashionable and pretentious moral panic about the Youth. Color me just as skeptical of the idea that the Youth will erase all boundaries of social distinction and register, transforming all communication into a conversational “mash-up.” We already experimented with an unstructured free-for-all, it was called MySpace.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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TechCrunch is reporting on Facebook’s new “modern messaging system”. The first few comments immediately telegraphed my first impression: is this Facebook’s Google Wave? Interesting then to see if Facebook can make this work. If it can’t, then score one for the proposition that people don’t want a seamless integration of various tools which emerged in the 1990s and have distinctive roles today in the information ecology (IM, email, message boards, etc.). If Facebook succeeds perhaps it goes to show the importance of timing, execution and marketing. On the other hand, Mashable makes MMS sound just like a souped-up version of SMS texting, and so far less ambitious in scope than Wave ever was. Email is more formal, which is why it can be very useful in some situations. Facebook is more convenient for getting in touch with your college roommate.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Facebook, Technology 
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Ruchira Paul has her own reaction to Zadie Smith’s pretentious review of The Social Network. One of the aspects of Smith’s review which Ruchira focuses upon is her concern about the extinction of the “private person.” I have mooted this issue before, but I think it might be worthwhile to resurrect an old hobby-horse of mine: is privacy as we understand it in the “modern age” simply a function of the transient gap between information technology and mass society? In other words, for most of human history we lived in small bands or in modest villages. These were worlds where everyone was in everyone else’s business. There was very little privacy because the information technology was well suited to the scale of such societies. That “technology” being our own innate psychology and verbal capacities. With the rise of stratified cultures elites could withdraw into their own castles, manses and courtyards, veiled away from the unwashed masses. A shift toward urbanization, and greater anonymity made possible by the rise of the mega-city within the last few centuries, has allowed the common citizen to also become more of a stranger to their neighbors. It is far easier to shed “baggage” by simply moving to a place where everyone doesn’t know your name.

Or it was. Today neighbors can dig through the information trail you’ve left in the great data cloud. You can’t lie about your age if you give people your real name, it’s easy to find it on various services. You can’t lie about where you are from, the same services usually track that too. Classmates.com can allow someone to confirm whether you actually graduated from the secondary school you claim to have graduated from. If you have left your Facebook friends list open then they can quickly see what sort of people you associate with. It takes 10 seconds to find out how much your house is worth on Zillow, what taxes you’ve paid on it, how much you’ve purchased it for, and, if you have a lien against you. If you dressed up like a ladybug for Halloween then everyone may know.

The power of the new technologies was brought home to me last weekend. Amos Zeeberg, Discover Magazine‘s web editor, mentioned my comment moderation style on a panel at a conference in New York City. Someone in the audience tweeted what Amos had said about me, and I saw the tweet since she added @razibkhan to her message. Five years ago I may have heard about this, but only later on from one of the other people in the audience, or another panelist. But there would have been a fair amount of latency. Now the information got to me in ~15 minutes. Not only did I see the tweet, but so did everyone else who was a follower of that individual.

The world is turning into a village. But only from your own perspective; in the aggregate there are millions of distinctive villages.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History, Science • Tags: Anthropology, Facebook, Sociology 
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Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com"