Once squandered to those silly college students, Facebook has undergone a complete branding reversal and is now the social network of choice of social media mavens and digerati. So what just happened? And why are they all flocking to it instead of Friendster, MySpace, or LinkedIn. My theories:
Listen to the Spark Minute (John Scott and David Spark from Green 960 in San Francisco, CA) talk about social networking and Facebook (Run time: 7:30).
Download the MP3 (right-click, select Save Target As…)
Competitors fall short – If you’re in social media, Facebook isn’t the first site you’ve joined. I’m sure the majority of people I’m friends with on Facebook also have profiles on Friendster, MySpace, and LinkedIn. But like me, they created them and it just sits there static.
- LinkedIn is a great idea, but it’s purely designed to take advantage of your friends and their connections, not to actually learn more about them. People are eager to help when they can, but if people are being taking advantage of they get turned off. My LinkedIn Profile.
- MySpace is the ugliest site I’ve ever seen. I’m still dumbfounded as to how this hideous site became so popular. It looks like early 1996 HTML design. Regardless, all my comedian friends are on it and they use it to promote their gigs. My friend Julie Cohen and her fiance Johnny Nation of the band City Fritter swear that it’s been a boon to their career. They meet other musicians and bookers, create a mailing list, and get most of their gigs booked through MySpace. My MySpace Profile.
- Friendster is lifeless. The only cool thing they added is the “Who looked at me” feature. They got a lot of flack for including that feature, but you can turn it off, and if you don’t like it you can leave Friendster which a lot of people have done already. One of the great things about the Internet is the potential to be a voyeur and peer in on other people’s lives. I liked the “Who looked at me” feature until I got those depressing notices that said 2 people had looked at my profile in the past two weeks. I’ve realized that unless you’re a hot woman no one’s going to look at you. My Friendster Profile. Spoiler alert: I’m not a hot woman.
So what does Facebook got that the others don’t have?
Released a more developed product to the entire market - September 2006 Facebook opened the userbase to anyone who wants to join. Previously you had to be a college student or someone with a .edu email address to get an account on Facebook. Creating a social network for all doesn’t make them unusual, in fact it makes them identical to their competitors. But by starting with a limited database and then growing it, Facebook was able to work out the kinks and test market tools so that it could present a more finished and polished product to a new userbase. A new userbase that’s also very influential.
The Virginia Tech shooting – Although not the recommended way to get recognized, Facebook definitely got worldwide recognition during the fallout of the Virginia Tech shooting in April, 2007. The shooter had a Facebook page and the content on it was talked about considerably. While that opened people’s eyes and ears to the name “Facebook” it didn’t take off until a month later when the company released the open API.
Opened the API (application programming interface) - Many point to this being the cause for such catastrophic growth, and it probably is. Just two months ago, Facebook allowed anyone to create applications for its interface which actually can’t be altered through HTML and CSS. In that short time, there are already 1500 applications and the reason people use them is because they see their friends, whose opinions they respect, using them. It’s the equivalent of a company creating widgets for a captive audience.
Facebook blurs the line between work and personal – No other social network has been able to do this. They’re either on one side or the other. LinkedIn is only business. There’s nothing personal on that site. And unless I was working full time as a comedian or musician, I wouldn’t know how to conduct business over Friendster or MySpace. Facebook allows you to create business connections, but let your colleagues see into your interests and the people you know.
Facebook is an automated diary of my friends’ lives – This I believe is the number one reason Facebook is so popular. I bring back the popularity of voyeurism online. The homepage of Facebook is a running commentary of what my friends have been doing for the past few minutes or hours. Some people liken this to the microblogging tools like Jaiku or Twitter. While Facebook has microblogging capabilities, where I can announce to my friends that I’m going to make myself a tuna melt (yes, people actually do that), it does much more. It microblogs for you. Every action I take in Facebook is written out as a microblog entry that can be seen in my friends’ feeds. So if I post a new picture, an entry will appear, “David Spark has posted a new picture” and a representative icon will appear next to that line. What makes it friendly is that Facebook’s automated microblogging entries are written out in full sentences allowing them to flow with actual microblogging entries. It’s a diary or dialogue of my friends’ and my colleagues’ lives. Over time, by reading these little micro entries, I get a window into their lives without even exchanging a single email. It offers a point of connection when I do send an email, call, or meet and have a conversation.