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Facebook Isn't Just For Kids Anymore

Social networking sites have taken off over the last few years, and for a long time there seemed to be a clear divide

Alexander Falk's Blog

Social networking sites have taken off over the last few years, and for a long time there seemed to be a clear divide: Doostang, Ecademy, LinkedIn, and Xing for business networking vs. Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace for kids (be it high-school or college). Plus every network had their own particular and sometimes even unique focus (e.g. Musicians on MySpace, Harvard and MIT grads on Doostang, and lots of Europeans on Xing).
But things are not so simple anymore. As Facebook grows in popularity amongst "business types" due to several unique features that set it apart from the likes of LinkedIn (more on that later), the character of the network changes and it also gives rise to some interesting generation-conflict issues, such as in Liz Ryan's recent article "Worlds Colliding: My Mom's on Facebook!" in the BusinessWeek Career Insight column.
So what are these unique features that set Facebook apart from the rest of the social networking sites? There's been plenty of talk about Facebook in the blogosphere already, so I won't recite it all. Instead, I'll just say that it was these things that got me excited: 
  • Great UI design: the user interface is clean, customizable, and elegant - yet is provides for an environment that is actually fun to work with. Very much unlike MySpace (chaos) or Doostang (boring)! LinkedIn and Xing are not necessarily bad in their UI design, but Facebook is simply so much better. Designing a great user interface is just as important for Web 2.0 applications, as it was for regular desktop software. What can I say: when it comes to Altova's developer tools I've always been working hard to ensure we invest in the best UI design (and as a result, I regularly hear "XMLSpy rocks" or similar comments when I talk to people at conferences or trade shows).
  • Open platform that uses XML: 3rd party developers can add to it, and masses of developers are already flocking to the platform. Facebook applications are using FBML (Facebook Markup Language), which extends HTML by additional FBML elements (in the fb: namespace) that are described by this XML Schema (yes, I know, they call it a DTD, but it's really an XML Schema - I should tell them to use the DTD and XML Schema tools in XMLSpy to fix this). In addition to the FBML describing the user interface, the 3rd party applications call a Facebook API, where most parameters and results are transmitted in XML (e.g. see the description of the Events.getMembers API call).
  • Privacy control: it has much more fine-grained controls on what information I want to share with friends, the network, or everyone. Only Xing is still slightly better than Facebook in this regard, because of its European roots.
  • Flexible integration: it allows me to integrate my blog and new postings are automatically part of my Facebook news feed. In the same way I can integrate my photos (SmugMug), videos (YouTube), and other content. While some of the other networks only allow me to post a maximum of 3 links (LinkedIn), Facebook allows me to link as many web sites as I want and lets me directly integrate any RSS feed and have it automatically post to my profile. The only similar offering I've seen so far (other than dedicated news aggregators) is the new Plaxo pulse (beta).
 There you have it, I'm going to join Robert Scoble and openly state that I like Facebook. Send me a friend request, when you get your account set up...

More Stories By Alexander Falk

Alexander Falk, cofounder, president, and CEO of Altova, has been actively involved with XML since the beginning and is a member of the W3C Advisory Committee and the W3C XML Schema Working Group. Author of the XML Schema processor and XML parser for XML Spy, Altova's XML software suite, he previously contributed to the ResEdit software at Apple Computer.

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Most Recent Comments
Lawrence Perry 09/16/07 07:44:28 AM EDT

Online social networks have the edge definitely in cyberspace, and Facebook is one of the most popular, along with MySpace, and many more.

Almost everyday there is a new one, like Mash - Yahoo's answer to Facebook, and Google has embraced Social stream, and suddenly we are all informed that we have to be connected, and if you are in business sales people like for example, Thomas and Penny Power, are encouraging you to join their social and business network, because they claim that even random connections can make a difference to your business and add value.

Of course it's total hype, and a lot of time can be wasted online in pillow cases filled with goodies, promising you the world. As you go deeper among the tinsel and special effects in these so-called social networks, you meet the advertisements and promises, and isn't the worldwide web just full of sticky insects and cobwebs that you can get stuck in?

The future of business is in services and information offered on the web, online buying or selling, viewing the latest soap, listen to the music you like from itunes, and altogether doing a mirade of tasks quicker than you did before.

So what are your ratings/rankings and how visible are you? Is your business number one? Can you be found? Essentially your store / your business may not be so visible to people in your town, or in the marketplace, and agents try to sell you a new web site, that is interactive, flashy or with the latest banners - isn't it all an illusion?

The Social Networks suggest that you will become part of an ideal utopia, where you will meet other people like you, who will (particularly if you are in business) find you attractive, and want to do business with you. I suggest that this is absolute rubbish, but isn't this naivety, after all attracting some businesses to come on board with the idea that they can succeed? It certainly is in Ecademy, and as a past member I know that very few members are actually making any money from the site, and the majority are just wasting time.

Have you heard of the saying - you cannot mix business with your social life - it just doesn't work, does it?

Today we are told it does, the web browsers are full of it, and Business Week (2006) suggests that sites like LinkedIn, Ryze, Ecademy, Spoke, and Xing are where recruiters look for staff. They suggest that you should market yourself, share a part of your personal life such as a hobby or volunteer work on your profile, which will make you sound human and try to promote honesty. It sounds perfect doesn't it, and on those sites you meet a lot of dummies who are conned by this so-called love - gee I was one of them once!

Business Week (2006) does not recoomend that you play the numbers game, because the more people you are connected to, the shallower your relationships in business are likely to become. Surprisingly Thomas Power boasts of being one of the most connected people on the planet, on his network Ecademy, and the trouble is that at the end of the day, the testimonies that he gives are so insincere.

On Ecademy the race is on for the ordinary networker to become the best networker, well-connected, and during my time on that network I amassed some 1500 connections, whilst only ten of them bought me any business. I was completely trapped into the idea that Ecademy could work - why? I was new in business and niave.

The Oracle AppsLab think-tank (2007) suggests that online social networking sites are glorified contact managers in the cloud. Molly Wood (2005) suggested that social networks do not generate business, (apart from MySpace), because there was nothing to do in them, they took too much time, reliance on traffic to the networker's site didn't generate enough money from ads to survive, and that strangers tried to suck. Molly Wood (2005) suggested that business networking was valuable, and although it is great to have a lot of contacts who might know someone, who can help you with...something, the argument gets a little thin when you're suddenly bombarded with date offers or all-too-frequent postings about the unsavory, or just plain uninteresting habits of the strangers you suddenly know. Moreover, social networking sites pretty quickly and inevitably degenerate into cliques.

This is too true of the Ecademy network, where there are few buyers and almost everyone tries to sell. On Ecademy I was bombarded with people trying to attract me with spin on wealth creation, positive thinking and to join their cult. There was a clicque that I just could not get into, though Power suggested that you could get into another clicque, through his creation Blackstar with money, and a rising membership that went from from US$5000 - US$16000 on soft selling and adulterated hype in the course of two years.

Other former networkers of online Social Networks have their own thoughts, and considerable research has been carried out.

Travis Van (2007) suggests that Linked-In turned him off by the idea of putting his contacts in the awkward position of deciding whether to opt into something. Linked-in suggests that through the process of an email introduction it can open doors to connections. Travis finds it very presumptuous when someone that he barely know's at all sends him a Linked-In invite. He is not interested to enable people to similarly spam a bunch of other people that are part of his “network.” To Travis a relationship is built on history and long-term trust.

Jyri Engeström (2005) explored why social network services work and others don't, and suggested that instead of adding new contacts, we would be better cutting the links to the people who we actually don't know, stopped liking, or no longer want to be associated with for whatever other reason. He mentions Russell Beattie who decided to turn off Linked-In for that very reason. Jyri suggests FOAF is unworkable because it provides a format for representing people and links, but does not represent the objects that connect people together. In contrast Ecademy thrived on FOAF.

John Jantsch (2006) concurs that online social networking is neither social or networking to the small business owner, because of the amount of work it takes to make connections that are real.

Reporting in the Guardian Newspaper, Randerson (2007) claimed that Social Networking sites do not deepem friendships according to a survey at by researches at Sheffield Hallam University. Sonnenberg (2007) goes further and suggests that social networking sites are being used for social spamming. Power this year led Ecademy networkers to Facebook to promote their business opportunities, but not to do actual networking. Sonnenburg suggests that this is misguided enthusiasm, and guru garbage. Power has effectively manipulated networkers on his platform with the idea of success, when all he is thinking about is increasing his revenue - Thomas Power doesn't care about you at all - it's all false promises for revenue.

I use Facebook for business and social networking. What I like most about Facebook is it's diversity, and choice.

Facebook News Desk 09/11/07 06:30:44 PM EDT

Social networking sites have taken off over the last few years, and for a long time there seemed to be a clear divide: Doostang, Ecademy, LinkedIn, and Xing for business networking vs. Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace for kids (be it high-school or college). Plus every network had their own particular and sometimes even unique focus (e.g. Musicians on MySpace, Harvard and MIT grads on Doostang, and lots of Europeans on Xing).