So I got a call from the Fixer today telling me that Alex has disappeared. Probably in some ditch with a case of James Ready and a vicious hangover. So here’s Julian, filling in.
Ahh Facebook. Facebook has to be the crack, nay, the crystal meth of the internet, and we’re playing the part of Andre Agassi. Facebook is certainly one of the most successful internet applications of all time, and part of the reason it has been so successful is that it has taken all of the best elements of social networking and blended them into a very user-friendly interface. That, and everyone you know uses it. In the first few years of its existence, it has sapped virtually all of the market share away from its competitors (see: Myspace, Livejournal), and does not appear to be releasing its deathgrip on the internet any time soon. The only hot application that seems to be rivalling Facebook for social media supremacy over the past year has been Twitter, and that’s a small drop in the pot compared to the Facebook juggernaut.
Social media, more than any other industry, is a market share-driven business. Other industries are much less reliant on market share, because pricing affects the product you sell, and simply being the most popular doesn’t mean you will get 100% of the business, as competators will attempt to undercut you. That is not the case with social media. Social media is sort of like a teeter-totter in that, if you start getting significant portion of market share, everyone will start piling on. People want to go where their friends are going, so if you can boast the largest number of people, you are going to have the most popular site that everyone has to join in order to talk to thier friends; something that I refer to as the “cascade effect”. This makes Facebook’s rise to dominance interesting, but not as surprising as an outside observer may think. Myspace was the big dog on the web before Facebook hit the scene, but due to its very successful marketing campaign within North American colleges, Facebook became the nom du jour among the hip student technophiles that drove the rise of most of the popular web applications up to that point. Facebook’s slick, user-friendly interface, as well as the cascade effect allowed it to pull enormous amounts of market share away from other successful social media sites in a matter of a few years. If you were to compare it to a regular, goods-based marketplace, it would be akin to a grocery store replacing its entire soda pop aisle with a single brand. Do you know a single person who still uses Livejournal anymore? I didn’t think so.
One would imagine that online social media would be a harsh climate for Facebook competitors, but Twitter, interestingly enough, is winning users over with its simplicity. Simplicity is a huge driver for many people, especially those who aren’t exactly tech-savvy whipper-snappers. You click the follow button to follow people, you type our little message into the message box, and that’s it! That’s basically how you use Twitter. There aren’t any applications for it and there is virtually no learning curve, because the complexities of it are limited to hashmark topics, re-tweeting, and @’ing other users. Facebook, on the other hand, has thousands of applications and hundreds of different options, settings, groups and widgets. While all of those bells and whistles help to make Facebook incredibly deep, it also makes it incredibly intimidating to people who type with two fingers.
Another big bonus that Twitter boasts over other social media sites is the fact that real-life, big-time celebrities use Twitter and regale us with their amusing stories and anecdotes, so if you’re a fan of that particular celebrity, following them is worth it more often than not. Before this seems like shameless plugging for Facebook and Twitter, I want to make it known that I am not a huge fan of social media. I’m not a frothing-at-the-mouth luddite, in that I occasionally use both sites, but I’m also not on them all the time. I suppose the problem is that 80% of the time, they’re boring. People do mudane things all the time, and those who religiously use Facebook and/or Twitter like to keep people in the loop about every single one of those ho-hum events. While I appreciate the attention to detail, it makes for a lot of chaff to sift through for the gems. Perhaps I should make friends with people who tell juicier gossip? (just kidding facebook friends, you guys are awesome) I think that when it comes to getting your daily dose of exciting fluff, the cake has to go to Twitter, because listening to the lives of celebrities is infinitely more entertaining than listening to our own friends. Celebrities are obviously much better people than us in every way, right?
One of the most redeeming features Facebook has to offer is the amount of fun, time-wasting applications featured on the site. Social media is essentially a time-wasting tool, so if it’s more effective at wasting your time, it must be better right? Want a Texas Hold’Em Poker application? It has it. Want 500 arcade games? Well, it has that too. Scrabble? Of course! And the grandaddy of them all, Farmville. I’ve never played this seemingly mind-numbing farming game that inexplicably has a whopping 35 million people playing it, but 35 million people are playing it, so I don’t know what to say other than maybe I should start planting some virtual rutabagas.
Continuing on the theme of time wasting, it’s no surprise that one of the biggest workplace-banned sites is Facebook. Many, and I mean tons of office jobs have blocked their employees from accessing Facebook altogether, because it is just so darn addictive. How many countless productive man hours have been sapped away by the dreaded book of faces? I cringe at even imagining the recession-deepening number. Now that it has combined with the enormous, evil power of internet poker, I fear for all of you who have social lives.