Why is Facebook so popular? You could use a hypothetical or actual way to put all your social actions on your own website and easily enable your friends to find out what you’re doing. (This is something that Plaxo Pulse and FriendFeed.com seem to be trying to do, by the way.)
Many of my tech and social media early adopter friends are asking for these types of services, so they can port all their information from network to network, or just avoid the networks all together and create their own centers of activity with their groups of friends. In fact, there are 16 business plans circulating the Valley right now that solve this problem and at least 3 guys in every coffee house south of Market St. implementing a demo of this idea in PHP. (Ok, I have nothing to back that up, but I’d be willing to wager I’m close.)
So, why is Facebook popular, versus running your own network of your own friends? I was sitting talking this out with my friend Tristan Louis yesterday and I came up with the following analogy: Your Place, versus the Corner Bar. You could invite everyone you know over to your house, individually, on a regular basis, to catch up with them and hear what they’re up to. You’d be able to play games, give them drinks, share photos, all the social stuff you’d like to do.
Or, you could just hang out on a semi-regular basis at your local pub. You could play darts, try scrabble, buy drinks, and talk with the friends that come by. You might meet new friends there, or friends of friends. Certainly you’d have more exposure to people by being out in the public place than you might get just inviting your friends to your house. Friends could bring along friends to your house, but that might feel difficult or awkward.
Inviting everyone over to your house is like having all your information on your own site. Going out socially is like Facebook. Facebook provides a social “place” for interaction, game playing, social connections, and the serendipity of finding new people and learning about things that interest them.
This is not a new idea. This is the whole Social Community thing, which superceded the Online Chat Room thing, which came after the online discussion board thing, which, of course, replaced the dial-up BBS thing. These things, of course, have not really replaced anything, least of all the get-together-in-person and talk “thing.”
Also, before you jump to the conclusion that I’m for the “locked in platform” that Facebook represents, versus the ability to have all my information on my own site, to share as I please, let me note that I DO want access to all my Social Graph information. (Info about the open Social Graph at Plaxo, at Six Apart, discussion of the problem of a closed social graph.)
I DO wish to be able to move to whatever new Social Network eventually replaces Facebook as the place all my friends hang out, or duplicate my information in other interesting professional vertical networks or social services that may show up.
And remember, this discussion of theoretical places doesn’t trump what’s working now. Theory is still no substitute for a virtual place where you hang out with your friends, and meet their friends, and get involved in lots of new ideas and groups. And for me, there’s no substitute for in-person, physical, meat-space meetings with people when I want to network and learn new things. No Social Network service has replaced that for me.
See you around.