Social Networks and What the Press is Saying

November 10, 2007

Facebook and MySpace have been easy targets for commentary on the advancement of online social networking. Although there are many more social networks populated throughout cyberspace, these two seem to have the biggest reputations of causing a stir among the masses. Here are a few interesting online articles that talk about the ups and downs of these online communities:

Several interesting points were made in all of these. “How Mark Zuckerberg Turned Facebook Into the Web’s Hottest Platform” talks about how Mark Zuckerberg, the creater and founder of Facebook, turned this online community into a rapidly fast growing company worth millions of dollars. Zuckerberg envisioned Facebook to become the next Google-like internet tool and wanted to see it exceed the growth of MySpace – it’s biggest competitor. It grew to be the spotlight of big name corporations such as Yahoo and Microsoft as the next “IT” thing, in the world of internet gadgets. He also gave himself a bad rap as a “cocky youngster” by turning down a $1 billion offer from Yahoo to buy the site, after Yahoo’s worth began to deteriorate, even though Facebook was in need of an uplift. In the end, Facebook has advanced itself without being bought-out and is now widely used not only by it’s originally targeted college-age users, but by high schoolers and adults as well.

Zuckerberg did not originally created Facebook as a means of making new connections and friends, but by making a “social-graph” web map of real relationships. Lance Ulanoff of “Facebook is Not Worth $15 Billion” says that he regularly uses Facebook to reconnect and keep up with friends, although he finds the overall worth of Facebook and the site’s various applications to lack any real value. He finds the “poke” application to be childish (a poke is when you can basically let a member know that you are thinking about them without making any verbal exchange between you or the member you’re poking), and usually only gets on to confirm friend requests or alerts from friends. He hasn’t had a “eureka moment” and doesn’t think that Facebook is as grand as it’s made out to be. I honestly think that Ulanoff’s review comes from an extremely narrow point of view and perhaps he doesn’t have a strong need for many of the Facebook applications, and just the basic site is enough for his usage. He fails to comment or compare Facebook to any other online community that does have a “eureka” aspect, which should make this article fairly invalid to most readers.

I have enjoyed using and will continue to mainly use Facebook of any online community throughout my life. I’m not completely trustworthy of nor interested in making new connections with strangers in an online community, but being able to reconnect with old friends, maintain contact with current friends, promote my career and interests, and see what people I know are up to on a regular basis is the biggest perk of Facebook for me. I’ve found many of Facebook’s applications to be extremely useful to me. The Facebook marketplace deemed to be more effective than Craigslist when I was selling used furniture last summer before my move to New York. I’ve started using the Facebook event application more than Evite.com as it makes it easier for me to send out quick party invitations to friends without having to make a list of email addresses, since most of my friends are Facebook users. The Zuckerberg article says that many adults are entering the online community world with Facebook because of it’s “staid and conservative structure”. I couldn’t agree more with this comment, as I’ve found the interface and user-experience to be no-frills, friendly, and easy to navigate, not to mention I find that Facebook has a relatively fast processing server. The ads are not overwhelming, nor are they distracting or get in the way of my site use or navigation. If I didn’t want to use the plethora of applications that it offers, I would easily be able to ignore them and just use the basic service.

On the contrary to the perks of Facebook, I do agree with many of the statements regarding identity safety in the article “Study: Facebook Users Easy Targets for Identity Theft. This story brings up an instance of where Sophos research fabricated a Facebook profile for someone and sent out 200 friend requests of which 82 were accepted. None of the users who accepted the request knew this user (obviously, since it wasn’t a real person), but the majority of them gave out personal information to this user or had personal information on their profile that a stranger shouldn’t have any access to. The point of this article was to say that people tend to let their guard down when on Facebook under the context of a friend request. This could be because friend requests seem to be pretty tame and welcoming, and when someone wants to be your Facebook friend, it’s sort of a confidence boost that maybe they saw your picture and thought you were attractive or just thought you looked like a nice person to be Facebook friends with. This concept has been dubbed the “Facebook ID probe”. This can be a major problem for people who list their employers on their sites, if a strange “friend” asked for personal information from you and knew your work and who else worked under your employer. There have been several instances where someone I didn’t know asked me to be their Facebook friend. A few of those times I’ve accepted the requests because it was a person to went to my college or turned out to be a friend of a friend, but there have been a few times where I’ve accepted the request just to be able to see the profile of that person to check out how they would have known about me. Most of these times, if the person turns out to be someone completely random, I’ve deleted the person from my list of friends almost immediately. Overall, I would NEVER post anything personal beyond my email address on my Facebook account and there is no reason for anyone to post their addresses or any other personal information on there. Giving out any personal information to a “friend” you just met in an online community site is flat out stupid, and I think that stuff should not necessarily be aimed at just Facebook. It can happen on any online community big or small. I think that at this point, considering the concept of meeting people online has been publicly widespread since AOL 1.0, this is just everyday streets-smarts and Facebook doesn’t need to be the only site slammed for this downfall.

Another interesting point about privacy issues on Facebook from “New Facebook Ad System Raises Privacy Concerns” brings up the ways marketers are targeting Facebook users. The new system relies on user-provided details for marketers to target their ads which may violate privacy laws. These social ads combine actions taken by a user’s friend – whether it’s a purchase, review, or service – with an advertiser’s message. These ads appear where they regularly show, like on a user’s news feed or designated ad space. The issues that come up with this are that whether or not the user is consenting to the endorsement. The article states that “…individual users’ identities will be appropriated for the benefit of Facebook and advertisers alike.” Another interesting statement is from Daniel Solove, an associate professor of law at George Washington University law school, [ who says that] “[it] might be assuming that if a person talks about a product, then he or she consents to being used as an advertisement for it. It is wrong to assume that just because a user visits a Web site or rates a product highly or speaks well of a product that the user wants to be featured in an ad.” It seems to me that Facebook advertisers are taking a hint from but doing the opposite of what Gmail is doing with streaming links on the email client interface whenever a gchat or email content mentions something that the user enters. Instead of showing the user products or services specific to that user that they may have hinted at through a Facebook action, the system is not letting the user know that they’re technically being watched and used for advertising purposes. I definitely consider this an infringement on privacy and Facebook advertisers should consider other ways to target their ads to Facebook users.

The article, “Firms are More Likely to Ban Facebook than MysSpace”, says that the Barracuda web monitoring system has found that when corporate firms block one online community site from their web access, most often MySpace is the one that gets canned rather than Facebook. I couldn’t agree more with this. MySpace exposes more of people than Facebook does, and people tend to go off the deep end of exposing themselves on it, more than on Facebook (not to mention the site tends to be SO SLOW and is terribly designed!). The site also has so many intricate aspects that can be very distracting in a workplace and give a real blow to employee work productivity. MySpace is also heavily driven by ads and promotions for movies and other areas of entertainment which can stray the user from following their original plan of contacting a friend and head toward a sensory overload of MySpace ads. Although I’m on MySpace, I’m not a big user and don’t regularly update my site. I’m just on there because I have some friends that are only on MySpace and I like to find musicians and listen to free music on the MySpace music part of the site. With Facebook, even though I am guilty of going on the site while at my past job, I did find it to be more appropriate for the workplace due to it’s somewhat more conservative nature, than MySpace.

In closing, there is a lot of commentary, good and bad, on the plethora of online communities out there. You just have to weed out what you can deal with and what you don’t want to deal with when picking or sticking to your site of choice. As for me, I’ll always be a big user of Facebook. It was my original entry way into the online community world and it has never let me down. Yes, I’ll probably stay on MySpace for a few of it’s advantages, but overall, I don’t think I’ll ever permanently make the switch to only using one or the other.


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