Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Online Communities and the Men Who Love Them

Last Thursday, one of our financial planners, Joe, invited Ron and me to lunch. This is always a good thing, because by picking up our lunch tab, he can more easily justify the fees he charges us. He must have a great job, taking people like me to lunch!

At any rate, he mentioned that we should get on Facebook and become his friend. I was under the mistaken impression (apparently) that we were already friends, but I guess we were just business acquaintances or something.

Yesterday, another friend, Chaz, sent me an invitation to join a Facebook group. I thought that this was a Providential Sign (I don't really believe in Providential Signs; I'm hedging my bets here, see Mr. Pascal and his wager, actually, I'm not even hedging my bets, I'm just making a literary allusion, maybe not even that). So I registered on Facebook.

Wow! what an interesting landscape. I've been on other social networking sites (okay, I've been on Manhunt, LinkedIn, and Classmates.com), but nothing quite prepared me for Facebook. I mean, it's a whole industrial segment, and probably accounts for a full 3% of the Gross Domestic Product.

Facebook really wants you to sign up and have friends. It's eerie, like I've just joined a cult, or something (not that there's anything wrong with that). If you import your email list, you'll be astounded that about 98% of the people you write to daily are also members of Facebook, and even stranger, you discover that you are the last person in Wheaton, Maryland to join the herd. Who knew?

But interesting things happen on Facebook, too. A guy I've been trying to get in touch with for years is suddenly my friend. A high school friend is now a Facebook friend. My two daughters are not only my friends, but they wrote on my Wall! Now, of course I'm getting excited, and I realize that maybe this is better than the other places I hang out at on the web.

No, I probably am not going to cancel Manhunt, but it's a very targeted community for special needs. And LinkedIn has a lot of my friends from work, although I notice that Facebook has a lot of those same friends, and it's a lot more social than LinkedIn. Classmates, well, most of the people I've connected with on Classmates are also on Facebook. Facebook is evidently the 600 lb. gorilla and the 136.08 kg canary all rolled into one.

And no wonder, duh! Facebook has a lot of stuff that appeals to a lot of people. At a glance, I can see what friends are doing, and I can always find new friends. I find the site a little intimidating in that it has so much to do and explore (Focus, anyone?). But I'm just blown away by the friends I see on the site, and how I have so many more connections than I had ever imagined. This site is a sociologist's dream. I have not yet asked Barack Obama to be my friend. But I'm thinking about asking Sarah Palin. After all, she's from Idaho.

I expect the novelty will wear off in a few minutes. Facebook seems to have more reach than just a social community, though. I'm pretty sure it will have at least as much utility as eVite. The coolest thing about Facebook is that I don't feel hemmed in. I see the activity of my own world all around me, and for now, that's fascinating.