Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Facebook is the new AOL, revisited

I recently reconnected with some long lost friends via Facebook…I know, who hasn’t. In my case it is with people whom I have not had contact with for 30 years, so it is kinda “big.” This kind of happening was very reinforcing and soon I found myself searching for more old friends and acquaintances. But throughout the process there was something very familiar about the sensation I was feeling, it was a déjà vu feeling, a sense that I had done this all before. But I simply could not get my brain around it.

So, today I was reading a blog article about the changing trends in peoples' use of various web technologies. They note how the landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years and speculate on where we are heading (I will blog about this separately as I am very interested in the topic). So, I was reading the article and then it hit me. AOL…Facebook FEELS like AOL.

A short time later I Googled the words “Facebook” and “AOL” and lo and behold, I was not having an original idea - Yeah, so what else is new? Not only have others noted this, but some of them saw the similarities over TWO years ago, around the time Facebook first “hit the streets.”

Scott Heiferman on his blog in June of 2007 entitled “Facebook is the new AOL” notes the similarity of the two systems separated by thirteen years of time (1994-2007) and how they both appeal to people who “live in their walled gardens.” He writes:
Fast forward to Facebook 2007 and see similarities: If you want access to their big base of users, develop something in their proprietary language for their people who live in their walled garden. Strangely, many young facebookizens aren't very net savvy (facebook *is* their internet) & they have little desire to go beyond the walled garden -- just like the old AOL users. There's even a proprietary Facebook messaging system (kids don't use much open internet email).
Heiferman’s comments were echoed by Jason Kotte who adds:
Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.
I think Kotte was partially wrong in his appraisal. If any thing, the walled garden has gotten larger and many folks - even me - seem to gravitate to the safety of “being among friends.”

Another blogger in August of 2007 laments the phenomena. Danny Sullivan in “Grokking Facebook: AOL 2.0” writes:
So as I go through the applications, a light bulb (compact fluorescent) finally kicks in about Facebook. It’s AOL. Shit — it’s AOL. How on earth did all these people wind up back in AOL only a year after AOL gave up on the walled garden? Maybe they’re too young. Maybe they don’t remember. I remember some Diggers once heckling me to go back to AOL. Made me laugh because they’d probably never been on it…
BTW, Danny made up the cute mashup image you seen on this blog. Delightful.

Danny too incorrectly predicts Facebook will be short lived. So what exactly is this phenomenon? Why is Facebook popular and growing in popularity? Or is it?

My own assessment is based exclusively on a very small sample – the 47 people who have the pleasure of being “my friends” on Facebook. They seem to fall into a predictable pattern. Of the nearly fifty folks, and this does not include the 3-4 organizations that I “follow,” less than half are what I would call “active” on Facebook. The vast majority chime-in very infrequently and some, not all, are completely mum. Because it is Facebook, I have no way of knowing if any of these “infrequent friends” even login and read my occasional rants. But, I suspect that although Facebook may be lauding over their claims to have had the largest growth of all of the social networking sites in the past two years, the vast majority of the members of Facebook rarely ever login to the service and even fewer write comments, updates and engage others. BTW, I recently went through my “follows” list in Twitter and discovered a very large number of people on my list had not tweeted in over 100 days. Yet, I suspect Twitter is still counting them as “members.” Perhaps someone can do that research.

What has been perhaps most interesting in this activity is reading all of the scathing predictions of the demise of Facebook and the whining as to why anyone would want to live inside the "walled garden of Facebook." It should be noted that all of these commentaries (the ones above and more listed below) are written by what appears to be professional writers on their own blogs. Only one respectfully made the disclosure that he too was “on Facebook” and could not deny the power of that very large audience.

I am curious about where it is all going and if ultimately the predictions made by these folks two years ago will come to fruition. Will Facebook end up in the digital discard pile along with AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe?

Time will tell.

Nods to:

Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard

Jeff Jarvis

Jeff Pulver

Dave McClure

Roger Kondrat

Adam Singer

Alan Wolk

Joel at Socialized

1 comment:

Roger Kondrat said...

Very good post, a welcome contribution to this ongoing discussion. Also, thank you for the link. I really appreciate it.

Take care