Facing the Truth

A recent Fortune article on the exploding popularity of Facebook, began on an interesting note:

President Obama used it to get elected. Dell will recruit new hires with it. Microsoft’s new operating system borrows from it. No question, Facebook has friends in high places…

Like many others, I too am a relatively-late bloomer on Facebook, having joined the 175-million strong community only last month!  It came as a surprise to most of my friends, especially since I am often considered to be the resident Technology expert, and usually the first to sign up for new and upcoming services like this.

But these days the folks fervently updating their Facebook pages aren’t just tech-savvy kids: The college and post-college crowd the site originally aimed to serve (18- to 24-year-olds) now makes up less than a quarter of users. The newest members – the ones behind Facebook’s accelerating growth rate – are more, ahem, mature types, who never thought they’d have the time or inclination to overshare on the web. It’s just that Facebook has finally started to make their busy lives a little more productive – and a lot more fun.

I’d seen the birth of social networking sites like this, over the years.  Each one had promised its users an entire “world” of benefits… from messaging and chat to online identities and the ability to connect with others who signed up.  Each one had required a distinct signup and was designed to provide its rich feature-set only to community members.  The difference between them and Facebook?  Facebook survived… and thrived.

Unlike “Twitter” (which I find to be quite a lonely world, in its present form), Facebook is alive!  Unlike “MySpace” (which was downright silly), Facebook is fun!  And, unlike many many others in this space, Facebook just makes it so effortless to connect with people you know, and stay in touch with them.

Sure, there are a number of improvements I can think of.  As an example, there don’t seem to be selective levels of access to your online Facebook identity, for varying degrees of friendships or for the work & personal personas we maintain.  If you asked any one of its millions of users for suggestions on improving it, I’m sure the list could be endless.  But, the fact is that Facebook works.  And, works well.

Try logging in to quickly check a message, and you may find yourself scrolling through new baby photos from that guy who used to sit next to you in Mr. Peterson’s English class. How did such a goofball end up with such a cute baby? And how’d he find you here anyhow? Soon you’re checking the friends you have in common. This addictive quality keeps Facebook’s typical user on the site for an average of 169 minutes a month, according to ComScore. Compare that with Google News, where the average reader spends 13 minutes a month checking up on the world, or the New York Times website, which holds on to readers for a mere ten minutes a month.

As of Feb 2009, Facebook registers more than 3 billion total daily minutes of usage, more than 850 million photos uploaded each month and more than 15 million users who update their ‘status’ daily.  But, for me, the most shocking discovery about its success was the reading that Facebook has taken just 5 years to reach the magic mass-market figure of 150 million users!  In comparison, the iconic iPod took 7 years to do the same, and the ubiquitous Cellphone did it in 14.

At a personal level, Facebook has brought me in touch with tons of old friends and acquaintances, making it really really easy for me to stay in touch with the multitude of insignificant pieces of information that are too small to email or call each other about, but too large to ignore in any relationship.

If there are only two services you needed to see, sign-up on LinkedIn for all your business networking, and on Facebook for every thing else.  It’s time you faced the truth.

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