Facebook is for the herd

By Razib Khan | January 15, 2011 2:47 am

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.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology
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  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    Yeah, I’ve always been suspicious of the notion that Facebook, simply as a function of its rapid growth, would spell doom for other tech companies on the Internet. In the case of Google, there is just no comparing the functions that the two companies provide in their main services.

    However, I do think that Facebook is here to stay and I personally find it a very valuable service as it remains one of the best ways for me to connect online with people that I’ve actually met in real life. Most of my friends and acquaintances are not particularly tech saavy and even if they were, I don’t think that they’d be particularly interested in the blog I update at random intervals or the other online discussions with which I involve myself.

    So, yes, Facebook is for the herd, but that’s the whole point. In drawing in a great mass of users, Facebook makes it easy to connect with people that you otherwise couldn’t.

  • http://runtowin.blogspot.com jeff_r

    Of course, this opinion comes from a rapidly aging white guy writing for PC Magazine. He’s certainly qualified to welcome people to the past – since he would be the perfect tour guide!

  • mikem

    Reminds me of something I heard the other day, that “I’m not on Facebook” is the new “I don’t own a T.V.”

    That is, a way for people to feel smugly superior to the ‘herd’. I mean, by this articles logic, anything 70 year olds use should be abandoned by any one hip (or ‘power users’). It’s just ridiculous! Draw some extremely faint superficial parallels between facebook and AOL and suddenly they are the same thing and we should ignore the latter as unimportant. The fact that broad demographics are adopting a technology is a sign of it’s power, not it’s irrelevance, as any sensible tech commentator realizes.

  • Carol

    Now, now, you sound like a snot- nosed self-congratulating geek. Facebook is not a place for blogging, it is a social medium, a community square, the plaza where you meet friends and family. It is definitely not a club. That is a mediocre analogy. I personally get news and opinions from blogs and online news media and never use Twitter. If you can tweet something in 140 characters or less, you are simply being (or think you are being) witty, and overly witty tweeters are pretty boring overall.

  • http://web.me.com/wrenbrandi/AcademicSite/Home.html Brandi

    It took me a long time to jump on the Facebook bandwagon, and I’ve only been on it for about a year. What eventually drew me to it was living abroad, and the ability it gave me to interact more frequently and efficiently with friends and family from back home. Further, it allows you to reconnect with people whom you may have lost contact with. These are also the two reasons that I have stayed on Facebook.

    I think Meng stated it best with his last point, that Facebook is for the herd. That is where its utility lies.

    All of this said, I think that many improvements could be made. More importantly, it’s sad that many people seem to be more focused on their Facebook social lives than their real social lives. I will always roll my eyes at those people who interact more with their phones than with the actual people they are with. Don’t get me wrong – if my phone alerts me that I have a message, I’ll check it. But more and more people seem to show a preference for electronic communication over direct interaction. One problem with Facebook is that it makes this so easy for people, in a way that other electronic/internet communication hasn’t been able to do (yet).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #3 & #4, don’t over read my post. makes you sound retarded. no more comments which put words into my mouth.

    But more and more people seem to show a preference for electronic communication over direct interaction.

    i’d like to see this as a function of SES. a person who is a member of a mormon church has less use for FB than a doctoral candidate in grad school, i’d think ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/muruganv Murugan

    I would associate the word “community” more than a “club” when I think of Facebook. And as in the real world, the web community seems to span the gamut in terms of the kinds of people who can be found there. It also probably reflects the demographics of a country. In India (& other developing countries), I would be surprised if seniors are getting on Facebook.

    That said, I am blissfully unaware of what goes on in the Facebook community. Don’t have a Facebook page. Really only curious about one thing though – what makes otherwise perfectly sane adults spend hours in front of a game called Farmville?

  • Kevin Bridges

    If you have to weigh the pros and cons that extensively before signing up for a social networking site, you’re officially overthinking it.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i’m going to delete comments like #8 from now on. i have no idea what it’s supposed to even be addressing. i’m publishing it as an exemplar.

  • TheDude

    In my opinion, Facebook is a bubble whose revenues are in no way comparable with its valuation — but one more step in the e-mail-discussion forum-dating site continuum.

    Further, Mark Zuckerberg should be tonsured and forced to go about in sackcloth, if only for attempting to tether ‘coolness’ to being a shut-in.

  • http://ecophysio.fieldofscience.com/ EcoPhysioMichelle

    I think we’ve had this discussion before (or maybe it was with Jason, I always forget who said what on twitter) but I tend to think of FB and Twitter as very different spaces. Twitter is for active conversations, FB is for passive connections with people I want to check up on from time to time but don’t always want to be talking to (old friends, etc).

    I do have people on FB that I want a more active connection with (family, for instance), but if I really want to talk about something with them I am more likely to call them than send them a FB msg. The only reason I really have them on FB is because a) it is easier to disseminate pictures via FB than email, and b) it is considered an affront not to have them friended, apparently.

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    “There is no reason for anyone with any chops online to be remotely involved with Facebook, except to peruse it for lost relatives. ”

    The implication here is that non-relatives who aren’t aren’t computer savvy aren’t worth keeping in touch with, and that even the relatives are hardly worthwhile. That is sad. While keeping up with the cousins is an important draw for facebook, they are by no means the only interesting people I know with limited online presence. Facebook is great because for whatever reason, people who are worth keeping up with in the real world prefer it over other online communication methods.

  • Paavo Ojala

    I agree with Lab Lemming

    Having a facebook account is like owning a phone and have it listed in phonebook 30 years ago. I hardly have anyone’s e-mail address. I can find internet chops people everywhere. People without them are only in facebook. And these people who remained skeptical of timewasting internetstupidities like facebook until last week when then at last joined won’t be easy to lure into the next new thing.

    I enjoy keeping in touch with people who have hotmail-email accounts.

  • Pingback: Skin-Deep Is Too Deep | Whimsy Speaks

  • Neil

    Why are so many bright, web-savvy people skeptical of Facebook’s usefulness? Just because a lot of idiots use a particular tool in stupid ways doesn’t mean the tool itself isn’t useful. Superficially, here is a list of popular services that I don’t use because Facebook’s functionality is far more robust:

    -evite (messaging between guests, on-the-fly updates, multiple admins)
    -photobucket/flickr (tagging, “photo’s of” albums, robust privacy controls)
    -twitter (status updates are more versatile, nested comments make threads easier to follow. “Liking”)
    -any instant messaging utility (no advantage besides the RAM i save not running gchat)

    For unofficial purposes, facebook messages are more convenient than e-mail.

    Stuff that is more useful thanks to facebook functionality:

    -yelp (transfering contacts, publishing updates, etc.)
    -random blogs i read and comment on, where the use of facebook ID’s have made the discourse more civil due to reduced annonymity
    -my smartphone (checking in, instant video or photoblogging)

    All in one, well-organized, clean interface. As long as you don’t install useless, annoying apps like farmville, facebook is great.

  • Selphin

    “i’d like to see this as a function of SES. a person who is a member of a mormon church has less use for FB than a doctoral candidate in grad school, i’d think”

    Funny, I am a doctoral candidate with several mormon acquaintances (“Young Single Adults”) on facebook. It seems they use it consistently and extensively for various church related activities. Certainly more than I ever use facebook for!

  • Gerry

    As others have said, facebook is used to keep in contact with friends and family. In that regard it’s very useful, especially when so many people are on it. I use Facebook over Twitter because Facebook has more than just statutes. It has pictures, blogs, videos, chat, etc. And because only one of my friends is on Twitter.
    So I think it’s a little pretentious to say there’s no reason for anyone with um…”chops” online to use facebook except finding lost relatives.

  • http://applpy.wordpress.com Arpita

    Agree with points made above that Facebook is helpful in renewing/maintaining social links. For me, it is a useful single destination to get all the news on my varied interests (no need for bookmarks even), and my engagement in various projects. There is really no question about its utility to the average person in the street, we humble doofuses love it! All the snarkiness actually reeks of sour grapes: the party poopers who can’t stand how much fun the little people are having while they, the much-smarter ones are feeling left out. hey, if its so pathetic, how come you spend sooo much time whining about it?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    hey, if its so pathetic, how come you spend sooo much time whining about it?

    that’s a retarded comment. i’m closing this thread.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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