Why are Facebook updates uninteresting…

except to feed the twitchy cravings of news addiction?
Facebook updates (at least the way that my network uses the service) are mostly about Facebook. So-and-so added a music application. Somebody else is playing a movie quiz. That information is super-valuable to app developers and marketers,but only somewhat interesting to me.
Twitter updates are trivia, too, but they are about the people and not the things.

Inevitability, social network merging, and Jane Jacobs

Inevitability is a rhetorical technique used when someone is trying to steamroll some highly debatable activity.
The first time I really noticed the technique being used was when doing public interest lobbying. Legislators pushing a bad bill would say that passage was inevitable. This tactic would put inexperienced activists into a tizzy. But it wasn’t fact. They were just trying to get you to give up. opposing their deal.
Another way this is used is technical determinism. A given action is technically possible, and therefore it is inevitable that it will be used the way the speaker wants. This is bogus. Automobiles can easily do 70 mph. This makes it possible to construct many-lane, banked boulevards that allow cars to careen through neighborhoods. But it doesn’t make it inevitable. The design of the road system is a social decision, not a purely technical decision. Localities can choose speedways or traffic calming.
The folk pursuing the social network graph experiment are claiming that reducing the inefficiency of digital social networks is inevitable, just as 60s traffic engineers claimed that reducing the inefficiency of local roads was inevitable. Some amount of social network friction is socially beneficial. Someday, digital networks will need to make this decision as policy choice. There will be the network equivalent of robots.txt, or some other aggregation calming technique. Brad Fitzpatrick is acting as the Bob Moses of social networks, someday we will need social network Jane Jacobs.

Facebook Developer Bubble

From Facebook Developer Garage a presentation two developers about going into business on their own. “You can write your application nights and weekends. Then, once it gets big, quit your day job. One of the most important things we learned was “time management 101 – the need to leave time to have conversations with people other than each other.”
There was an early-boom land-rush vibe. A tall VC in oxford and chinos lured developers with a pitch that Facebook will go public for billions, and users on Facebook apps are worth $1 to $10 each. The race is on to attract millions of users with viral applications, and cash out before users get annoyed and quit the app. Virality is becoming social spam — one of the apps has come up with a way of doing “reply-all” via SMS. Uh, thanks for bringing that into the world. There was envy and hatred for the “big incumbent players” (who started 3 months ago), who create new million-user apps by cross-promoting from their existing million-user apps.
The atmosphere was reminiscent of dot.com — without some of the sleaziest aspects of fraudulent dot.com business models, but also with less of the idealism about opening information and improving the world. The median age at the event was about 21.5.
There is also a somewhat dizzying look into the future. The handful of developers at Facebook who took questions at the last session were talking about allowing apps to add elements to the API (yowza!), hosting applications (!), strengthening groups. Platform looks like this, not like Microsoft. The decisions that the crew of developers on the couch in front of the room make now will affect how software works years from now.
The euphoria and the leap from virality into social spam still isn’t the interesting bit about Facebook to me. I’ve been walking around with various ideas for social applications for years, and Facebook provides a platform that makes it easy to bring those ideas into reality. There are all kinds of useful things that can be done, with an application based on people being able to communicate with their friends. Some of those things are socially useful, and some remunerative. The “get a bazillion users and sell out to a greater fool” model isn’t so interesting.
I guess that makes me a chump from the perspective of profit maximization, but I feel the same way about quizzes and horoscopes as about celebrity weddings and movies where things go boom — I don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of doing things that might be less momentarily popular but are worth doing.

Connecting the Social Graph: the cure is worse than the disease

Who cares most about putting together a holistic picture of your friends and associates:

  • you? You can eliminate the repetitive task of adding friends to networks
  • marketers? They can infiltrate the social network and spam you through your networks of friends
  • government analysts? They get to more easily trace people who know people who oppose government policies, attend anti-war demonstrations, protest factory farms.
  • insurance companies? They can tailor your coverage based on whether your friends smoke or are sexually active

Brad Fitzpatrick and David Recordon are enthusiastic about reducing the inconvenience and friction of a disconnected social graph. But it seems to me that the cure is worse than the disease. Reducing friction introduced by different services in different social contexts is moderately convenient for individuals, and very handy for institutions that don’t have peoples’ best interests at heart.
Ross Mayfield pointed to privacy concerns here, and Danny O’Brien of EFF talked about them in a privacy session at BarCampBlock, the raw notes are here