How the web used to be and what we lost

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Facebook – a tipping point?

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FaceBook Friends Distance

Everywhere I turn in media I bump into a Facebook story; and it’s not the usual chatter. Of course we all know of the movie, and we now know of Facebook Groups, but it’s interesting to see our cultural commentators, such as Frank Rich and Malcolm Gladwell, sidling up alongside the likes of Anil Dash and Umair Haque to write about Facebook. Even the movie Catfish is referred to in a dig at Facebook.

I wrote last week about how Facebook Likes are the low bar for online campaign success measurement, by pointing out how easy it is to Like a brand, yet that action alone doesn’t suggest that anything is really happening. All the recent chatter is different – it has tended to lean toward, not exactly negativity, but at least to a perceived weariness amongst these commentators.

It makes me wonder what’s happening but it certainly feels like they, or we, have reached a collective nadir. Facebook clearly isn’t going away any time soon, but now that it resides in the rarified, and often vilified, air that it shares with Google and Microsoft, the only direction it can go now is down.

Unless Zuckerberg keeps moving the goal posts to retain media attention.

Perhaps we are entering a period of social media malaise – a tipping point. Below are some recent articles about Facebook:

Keeping Our Distance, the Facebook Way – Damon Darlin
Twitter and Facebook cannot change the real world – Malcolm Gladwell
Facebook Politicians are not Your Friends – Frank Rich
The Social Media Bubble – Umair Haque
Facebook: The Reckoning – Anil Dash

And just today on Twitter – as i predicted, facebook built a subprime ecosystem. twitter didn’t here’s the evidence @ev /via @umairh

Facebook Likes are not engaging

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“..the dark genius of their film lies elsewhere, beyond the parameters of its slick intentions, in the wild social ether where nobody knows who anybody is” [NY Times review of the movie Catfish]

Why does it matter who is eating whose lunch on the Internet?” [Malcolm Gladwell - New Yorker 10/04/10]

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” [New Yorker cartoon.]

Credit: I have to thank Justin Spohn & David Ewald for helping me filter and focus my many thoughts, by sharing their own ideas, insights, and persuasive edits, that I have included here.

Let’s not confuse society, social and community
It doesn’t seem so long ago that society and social went hand in hand. There have been many writings about differing societies throughout history – Nomadic Pastoral, Agricultural, Horticultural or simple farming societies – and there has been plenty of debate over the marked difference between Industrial and post-Industrial societies. The common thread throughout though is that they were all phases of civilization. Historically, societies have tended to form to resolve issues, effect social change or for other positive purposes.

For a society to form, likeminded social beings are required. Humans are pretty good on the whole, at being social.

Social anthropology provides so many answers to human behavior, and today that information is available via technology right at our keyboards, which, to parse Marshall McLuhan, are an extension of our fingers. And although technology has shortened the distance between millions of people, we all still skip to the thrum of our baked-in anthropological nudges.

Before I go on, it’s worth pointing out that we shouldn’t confuse society and community. This link points to almost everything you’d need to know about community.

“To feel part of a community people need to share a sense of purpose, a common set of values and beliefs. And for the community to grow and thrive it needs to draw on collective resource and a culture of support and interdependence to meet common needs and defend against shared risk.”Olivia Knight at eatbigfish

Does that sound like Facebook to you?

Why do I say that we skip to the thrum of our baked-in anthropological nudges? Well, let’s look at Facebook with its 500 million users. That’s a half billion people. It’s also a large pool of users to study and there have been studies.

A 2009 Read Write Web article, points out that Facebook users actually interact with very few of their ‘friends’ -  “According to Cameron Marlow, Facebook’s ‘in-house sociologist,’ that number is four if you are male and six if you are female. Marlow’s research indicates that the average Facebook user has a network of about 120 friends, but only has two-way conversations with a very small subset of these ‘friends.’ Interestingly, even for those users who have a far larger number of friends (500+), those numbers barely grow [ten for men and sixteen for women].”

So four friends do not a community make. And six is barely larger than most modern households; according to sociologists, a social unit larger than a household is the norm for when communities form. On another note, there’s Dunbar’s number, which is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. That number is 150. Can we call those 500+ Facebook users a “community” when they don’t actually interact with each other?
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This week in brief..

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It’s official, Twitter is not a social network

Facebook Zuckerberg Anil Dash Portland

Meanwhile, David Griner still likes Twitter and refers to it as “more powerful than all other social networks combined.”

David Skokna a founding partner and the creative director of Huge talks about kids and digital, and refers to them as Superconsumers. He then tells agencies that “If you haven’t changed every aspect of how you work by now, I’m sorry, but you’re fu#!ed.”

Here come the experts – The Future of Ad Agencies and Social Media

co: launched co: “is a brand studio for the 21st century CMO & CEO.” There were grumbles..

I’m not sure that I can get behind this ideaUnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.

But I really enjoyed Anil Dash deconstructing the Mark Zuckerberg New Yorker article in his post The Facebook Reckoning.

Meanwhile President Nicolas Zarkosy and his administration are bullying the Roma into leaving France.

And finally, it’s still the economy, stupid!