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Is Facebook the “McDonalds” of your Personal Network?

February 22, 2011 10 comments

I’ve been listening to an excellent BBC radio series called “The Secret History of Social Networking” – and reviewed the first in the three-part series about three weeks ago. I got the chance to listen to the other two parts on a podcast the other day – and both were gems. The podcasts are available internationally – so do follow the link at the bottom of the last post to load up to your iPod or listen on-line.

There were two different quotes in the interviews by Rory Cellen-Jones that struck me. The first was from John Perry Barlow. In the 80s John was on the board of the prototypical social network, The Well, and continues to be a respected

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commentator. In answer to Rory’s question about Facebook he said:

I think that it has enough of the characteristics of group connectivity that it seems to be fulfilling that need in the same way that treacle can make your appetite go away so that you don’t go out and eat your broccoli. It’s the white sugar substitute for the brown rice nutrition that real community might be able to provide you.

Wow – that’s powerful stuff. The analogy with fast food and wholesome nutrition is particularly thought provoking – especially when I see the time spent on Facebook in my household (and by the stats available on-line)

Also, in the programme was an interview with Chris Cox, one of the “Inner Circle” at Facebook. He was asked about how Facebook had gained popularity and overtaken the likes of Beebo and MySpace. Rory placed Chris, at this time in 2006, as being “connected with every Facebook innovation – all of which were hated”. He asked Chris – “what was the worst single reaction to any change.” Chris immediately said “Newsfeed”:

Before Newsfeed your home page just said ‘you have 2 new messages – go look at your profile.’ And afterwards it was a story line, it was literally a newspaper of what people were saying and what photos they were posting. … Nobody liked it. I remember my entire inbox being full. Personal messages from friends and family ‘can you please turn this thing off – we all hate it’.

When asked why Facebook had persevered with this controversial feature, Chris said:

The usage told us people were fascinated. But getting through these first few days…. You just need to have your own vision and need to be willing to stick to it in the face of criticism.

I love the entrepreneurial drive to see changes like this through in the face of negative customer feedback. Interesting that the guys at Facebook could read the numbers – the usage – and understand the addictiveness of the Newsfeed!

One of the best commentators on the dynamics of Social Networking (and Personal Networks) is Paul Adams. He has been featured on this blog before. He was a key User Experience guy for Google – and is just about to take up a post at Facebook. On his personal blog, he’s just posted an excellent commentary called “The Problem with On-Line Reputation”. In it he states:-

As with most people problems, I feel the roots of the solution lie offline. From our ongoing face to face interactions, we learn who is knowledgeable, who to turn to for an informed opinion, who is likely to say it like it is, and who has hidden agendas. There is no substitute for that. Reputation is built conversation by conversation at the desks, halls, cafes and meeting rooms of businesses all around the world.

I’m feeling that in the long run, the “quick hit” of Facebook will backfire. Who fancies putting down that “junk food” for a minute and treating yourself to some more nutritious “brown rice” …..face-to-face??

I have created a LinkedIn Poll called “Is Facebook the ‘McDonalds’ of your Personal Network?” – my last poll “If LinkedIn closed down – would you REALLY miss it?” has had over 1400 votes in a week.

Please go and vote, add comments – and do tell you friends (via Facebook – or face-to-face!).

The Secret History of Social Networking

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m not wanting my blog to become a review of the BBC’s output – but they are creating some terrific programming around networks. The latest find is a BCC Radio 4 report called “The Secret History of Social Networking”.

In the aftermath of the success of the movie, “Social Network”, BBC journalist Rory Cellan-Jones has traveled the globe to interview many of the “actors” who helped to create the Social Network phenomena. Interestingly, this story starts 37 years ago with “Community Memory” in Berkeley, California.

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.

The series is in 3 parts – the first was broadcast last week, and I tuned in to the podcast of it last night. It’s a good listen – and I think will become even more interesting as it races towards the modern day take-off of Social Media.

During the series there are contributions from Twitter’s Biz Stone, Path’s Dave Morin, Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, Facebook’s Chris Cox, the WELL co-founder Stewart Brand and writers Howard Rheingold and Julia Angwin. There’s a nice preview video interview with quite a few of these contributors on the main BBC webpage.

In the UK you can “Listen Again” with iPlayer. It seems that those outside the UK can also get access by subscribing to the Podcast.

Posh & Posher: Education & the Old Boys Network

January 28, 2011 2 comments

Apologies for this very British post! Hopefully, the international audience of the blog will find it relevant and interesting too.

The BBC broadcast a thought provoking programme this week – “Posh & Posher” presented by Andrew Neil (former editor of the Sunday Times). Although the programme focussed on the British Education system – and the dominance of Public School (that’s Private Education) and OxBridge (educated at Oxford or Cambridge University) politicians running Britain – the main point I took away was that Personal Networks can bring

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influence and power. Alongside this was a more worrying trend that the increasingly closed network of “old school chums” in government leads to our politicians being out of touch.

On the first point, the programme traces an amazing story of the transformation of control of British politics. From the end of the Second World War, British politics was dominated by the “Grouse Moor set” (another great place for high power networking). Public School education politicians took the majority of power (from the likes of Eton and Westminster Schools). Then in the 60s – there was a change, to more working class, Grammar School educated politicians. However – and this was the most surprising part of the programme – UK politics in the last 10-15 years is back to a privately educated dominance. Stats like 10% of the Coalition Cabinet being from one school (Eton), 66% being privately educated – and 16 being millionaires.

In my view, this says more about the Personal Network built up through the private education/Oxford & Cambridge root than what has been taught.

Although the programme focussed on education and the old boys network, I found the most worrying aspect to be the similarity of backgrounds (and the density of the connections) of the people who lead Britain. If any of you read my blog on Martin Gargiulo (and listened to his interview) – you will have heard him talk about “Echo”. In academic terms:

The echo hypothesis – based on the social psychology of selective disclosure of informal conversations – says that closed networks do not enhance information flow so much as they create an echo that reinforces predispositions. Information obtained in casual conversations is more redundant than personal experience but not properly discounted, which creates an erroneous sense of certainty. Interpersonal evaluations are amplified to positive and negative extremes. Favorable opinion is amplified into trust. Doubt is amplified into distrust.

This is from “Bandwidth and Echo: Trust, Information and Gossip in Social Networks”, published by Ronald S. Burt of University of Chicago and INSEAD in December 2000.

It’s a lesson for everyone – your Personal Network should not be made up of one group of people. Your judgement will be impaired by the “echo”. You should keep an eye on that – and I’ll continue to worry about the government of my country!

You can watch the programme (if you are in the UK) on iPlayer for the next week.

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