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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Facebook - so over?

I said in passing to my partner's 20 year old son at the weekend: "Facebook is so over." He didn't disagree but looked as me as if I was some respected Internet sage.

This must be how rumours start. Who knows, my little comment could now be running amok with a momentum all of its own.

Only last weekend, the Sunday Times wrote a lengthy article about the Facebook phenomenon. Half the UK population has a Facebook account. Its growth is staggering. But, lately, a couple of things are starting to niggle. The fun little applets, which are a great part of Facebook's appeal, now insist that you tell 20 friends before you get the results to see how British you are, what colour you are, etc. So most of us don't bother. It's little niggles like this that will start to turn people away.

Another issue is the growing prevalence of the corporate sponsor and what they're going to do with the rich harvest of data available to them. Initially, Facebook's attraction was that it seemed pure and untainted. But, having assembled this vast database of user sociological data, Facebook is now looking at how it can cash in. Themed ads (contextual ads) have started appearing and corporates are finding ways to engage with consumers, rather than talking at them, with various challenges and quizzes. This is good web practice, but it won't be long before darker and less desirable ways of using our data come to our attention.

Because I'm in marketing, I've been on most of the social networking sites for a while now, having joined in the early days so I could see how it developed. I don't bother with MySpace now - it seems very targeted at teenagers and mostly music focused. Linked In is showing signs of wear: unless it finds some more interesting ways to interact, it will go the same way as Friends Reunited. Bebo seems to be a mainly British phenomenon, and mostly among school kids and teenagers. Bebo has already developed a lot of sinister undercurrents: not the prevalence of paedophiles, as parents often fear, but the growing trend of online bullying. Some towns have even seen spates of suicide among school children which have been firmly linked to Bebo.

As the Sunday Times concluded, we're all waiting to see what's next "after Facebook." I'd like to see a more grown-up version. Facebook was originally aimed at US college kids, and it still seems quite juvenile with all the "poke me" nonsense. I like the bookshelf, film and music sections but lately these have become very flakey to use with constant error messages.

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