The devil’s promise with Facebook Connect was websites and communities wouldn’t need to worry their pretty little heads about user management and communication infrastructure. There was one true social network; and it lived in Facebook. All the site needed to do was cede their member login and identity to Facebook. In exchange, Facebook would bring to the site the real social network – all of your users, and all of their friends who use Facebook to share your good word. But it doesn’t work that way. I’d written about this in principle, but got bit by it in practice about a month ago.
I’m co-organizing an event on Social Media for Voter Education with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. The event was originally scheduled for May 27, but the Secretary came down with strep and cancelled on the afternoon of the 27th. I used Facebook to manage the RSVPs. When I got the call from the Secretary’s office, I tried to use Facebook to notify the eighty-ish people who had signed up and said they would or might to come to the event that night. Unfortunately Facebook adds a delay if you want to send email to “many” people. That message didn’t get out until later that night. I used Twitter, an email to co-organizers, and old-fashioned social networking got the word out, but there were still some people who traveled to the event, only to find the “Postponed” sign on the door.
Facebook was the intermediary between our event and the participants, and when it came to crunch time, Facebook didn’t come through, and didn’t have a reliable way to reach people. Facebook has no obvious interest in making it effective for organizers to communicate effectively with the community. For an organization that needs reliable communication, outsourcing community management to Facebook isn’t a good deal. Groups are much better off with systems that let them manage and communicate with their own communities, using social network services as overlay but not as a core component.
If you are interested in the event itself, it has been rescheduled to July 29 at 7pm in San Francisco. I’m still using Facebook, because that’s the only way I can reach the people who signed up for the original event. And for the next event, I’ll want alternatives to Facebook with reliable communication.