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January 28, 2009

The Facebook Phenomenon

Facebook, Inc.

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OK, I will admit it.  I have been spending an increasing amount of time on Facebook over the the last month or so.  I am even chatting live with Facebook friends at night on line.  I haven’t done online chat since the days of the Imagination Network by Sierra back in 1992. I don’t think I have twittered more than 3 times during this time, preferring to post my updates on Facebook instead.  I see my friend’s twitter updates on Facebook and that seems to be good enough for me. I look at pictures posted, comments, status updates, friends of friends, groups, even stupid applications involving sharing gifts and such (I did join a group that professes to hate those stupid application requests).

So what is driving this near obsession? Am I alone in this? Based upon what I am seeing, I am certainly not alone.  In the last month or so my friend count has gone from about 75 to near 200.  My friends fall into three categories:

  1. Family and current friends (people I am in touch with anyway)
  2. Business contacts (not too dissimilar from LinkedIn)
  3. Old friends and distant family I have not seen in years and years (this is the real driver for me)

There is just something very cool, and strangely appealing in a very weird way, about talking or finding out about someone you have not seen for 10, 15, or 20 years or more. I think this is the attraction that is driving this critical mass of Facebook adoption. The students who originally powered Facebook are still there. In fact my impression is that most of that generation have in excess of 400 friends. They are wired in and using Facebook a lot! 

However, I have also found that students prefer My Space better (I’m not sure why though). For business contacts, sites like LinkedIn would be sufficient, and its popularity attests to that.  As for real-time friends and family, you are in contact with them regularly anyway.  So it is the long lost friends and family that are unique to Facebook.  In many ways it fulfills the promise of a World Wide Web (of people that is). However, to be fair, Facebook also enhances the relationships and experiences of those in the other categories as well.

I find meeting old school and neighborhood friends really cool in a weird sort of way.  Finding out what ever happened to so and so and actually interacting with them is just freaky, but in a good way. Let me give you a case in point. During Junior High School there was a boy in my class name Jordan Gruber.  Jordan and I were never best friends, but we knew and liked each other.  After junior high, Jordan’s family moved from the neighborhood and I never saw him—or probably even thought about him—again.  Then, through the magic of Facebook, I saw Jordan’s name listed as a friend of another friend of mine from the same era. I sent him a friend request and presto, we are now Facebook friends. 

Turns out that after he moved, Jordan went on to get his undergrad and master’s degrees, and then a law degree. Now he lives with his wife and child out in the San Francisco Bay area. Take a look at http://www.JordanGruber.com, and you’ll see that by day, Jordan is the “Practical Wordsmith,” ghostwriting a wide variety of books in financial services, law, technology, and self-help psychology. By evening, Jordan is the CEO of Enlightenment.Com, a site dedicated to figuring out “what works” in the realm of spirituality and what he calls self-development, including his fascination with the mini-rebounder (mini-trampoline) as a form of highly effective and fun exercise.

In his spare time, Jordan, like me, is strangely attracted to the magnetic pull of contact with old classmates and friends on Facebook.  We had a live telephone call about this and agree that there is just something about it that is very fulfilling.  Jordan and I are going to get together for coffee next time I am out in the Valley, but we will keep in touch on Facebook in the meantime.  He also turned me on to some other mutual friends already on Facebook too.

So I am off to hunt down more names and faces from my childhood.  Who would you find if you could?  How long will it be until first loves find each other and run away together? This phenomenon has reached enough of a critical mass where we are going to see some very amazing interactions that are going to make Facebook a central and key part of our social lives.

Or as my friend Jordan in his best Enlightenment.com manner says,

“I think there is the potential for a powerful "integral" spiritual practice involved in embracing people and relationships from your past, that it is right here on our doorsteps, and that it is an incredible mirror for self-growth. I know I have been positively affected, and, it's quite the ride.”

The social networking race may in fact  be over.  Game, set, match Facebook!

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