So Mark Zuckerberg has been made Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Since 1999 the award’s actually been Person of the Year, but, given that women barely ever win it, that seems a moot point, and, aside from Wikipedia, I’ve not seen anyone call him Person of the Year anyway.
Plenty of people have already quipped about it being nice that a white, male, Harvard-educated billionaire is getting some praise and success against all odds, so I shan’t bother making that observation. Oops. (I was going to refer to him as a Harvard graduate, but, obviously, infamously, he isn’t, is he?)
Anyway. Facebook. My mother, who is in her late 60s, cannot manage to send me an email to my Gmail or work addresses, but can, and does, regularly send me direct messages on Facebook, in between games of Scrabble with one of my brothers. She’d rather do that than telephone me, even though I’m way more likely to answer the phone than a Facebook message in the evening. Facebook is an enormous success, an internet phenomenon; THE internet phenomenon. 500 million users, 175 million of whom log-in every day and spend an average of 30 minutes each day on the site. Those stats, even just the 30 minutes spent on the site per day, are absolute catnip to internet professionals. It’s mind-boggling.
But I barely use it myself, these days, despite being some kind of social media “expert” (heavy emphasis on the implied pseudo-irony there, please – it’s all relative), and despite being one of the first batch of people in the UK who were able to sign-up to it (because of the email address afforded to me by my place of work). Why don’t I use it?
Because I don’t find it, ironically, to be a qualitatively “good” internet user experience. Which is blogspeak for “I don’t enjoy using it”. Pictures look better on Flickr, and the types of communities you can engage in are more creative and focussed. Twitter I find much more useful as a tool for social chitchat, topical trend following, and (semi)professional networking; it’s leaner, simpler, purer, better defined and better designed (Facebook has ALWAYS been an aesthetically ugly site). Worpress is a damn-site better for prose. I guess YouTube is better for videos, but I must say I’m not particularly fond of online videos anyway (it’s the sound – I’m not fond of online music either; I like the internet to be a quiet place, mainly cos my main time on it is spent in an open-plan office, perhaps).
So how has Facebook become such a phenomenon if its constituent components can be enjoyed in better services elsewhere? Given that the exclusivity that drove its feverish initial couple of years has faded into even-my-mum-uses-it open access to all, I suspect it may be the fact that, however flawed they may be, there are SO MANY constituent parts. For an awful lot of people, Facebook pretty much IS the internet. All of it. Games. Commerce. Messaging. Photographs. Videos. Gossip. News. Groups for shared interests. Procrastination. Target-marketing. News dissemination. Keeping in touch.
Whenever I talk to people at work about social media and social networking, I always take care to say that we’ve only had the internet at workable speeds and decent social permeation for about a decade; we don’t know how it will continue to evolve, we haven’t evolved to deal with it psychologically or socially yet, and what is popular today will almost certainly be usurped by something newer, simpler, richer, trendier, or just plain different tomorrow. But Facebook, I suspect, isn’t going anywhere. Just take a look at this awesome map of the interconnectedness that Facebook has given the world. One of Zuckerberg’s interns made this. Probably in his lunchbreak. Zuckerberg may or may not deserve the accolade of Man of the Year, but his baby is pretty definitely Thing of the Right Now.