12 Feb 2008 10 am eastern

Facebook, Twitter, and Bird Flu

If “Our Broken Borders” should someday turn into a ratings loser for CNN’s Lou Dobbs, perhaps he can switch to “The Dwindling Productivity of the American Worker: Is Facebook Sapping Our National Vigor?”

Like comic books, rock and roll, heavy metal, gangsta rap, gaming, and MySpace, the web is no longer an easy card for parent-scaring pundits and politicians to play. But social networking sites AKA community-focused web applications AKA “web 2.0″ can still be blamed for a variety of social ills. That they are actually blameless doesn’t matter. The truth never matters in this game.

And since it’s easier to say “Facebook” than “the aggregate of new social networking sites and applications such as Flickr and Twitter,” there’s every chance that Facebook will take the whipping for the entire category.

That this will actually increase Facebook’s market value is known but won’t matter to the people who pretend to be outraged about “the Facebook generation” or “social not-working” or whatever the pundits end up calling the “crisis.”

The same thing happened when religious authorities tried to ban “Carnal Knowledge,” “The Exorcist,” “Hail Mary,” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.” In every case, people who otherwise wouldn’t have bought tickets for these films, showed up, lined up, and even bought popcorn.

At least “The Exorcist” was entertaining.

And of course, parental outrage and the PMRC have sold plenty of rap and metal.

If Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking apps get boosted by fake outrage, they’ll acquire more investors. And they’ll need them, since all these applications run at a loss, and all of them suffer from terrible scaling problems.

The scaling problems will grow worse as the apps become more popular; investors will buy smaller and smaller pieces of a less and less viable business concern; and when it pops, we’ll be back to the bird flu movie of the week.

So the planet warms and the Kenyans kill their neighbors and we tweet about nothing and hope the servers hold out.

[tags]socialnetworking, loudobbs, cnn, facebook, twitter, web2.0, applications, webapps[/tags]

Filed under: Applications, Community, facebook, industry, social networking, twitter, work

23 Responses to “Facebook, Twitter, and Bird Flu”

  1. Andrew Mager said on

    I think Facebook should buy Twitter. I have a Facebook status feed from my friends that I feed into Twitter, and it’s my most active “followee”.

    How many times do you log into Facebook a day? I would say it ranks 2nd after GMail in websites I visit most.

  2. Catskills Grrl said on

    The 24 News Beast must feed on the blood of innocent to survive.

  3. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    I think Facebook should buy Twitter.

    I’ve long expected them to do so. Ever since Twitter got integrated into Facebook status, it seemed obvious that the bigger company would make a play for the smaller company’s product. As far as I know, it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe because both products lose money.

    BTW, in my world, losing money is not a put-down. Build it first, figure out the money later (if ever) has always been my motto.

    But I’ve never built anything as demanding (in scale or server interactivity) as Facebook or Twitter.

  4. Dino Baskovic said on

    Everything is a tool of the devil, but only until the next tool of the devil comes along. Years ago, it was P2P and MMORPGs. This year, it’s FaceBook. Years from now, we’ll undoubtedly scorn our Semantic Web overlords. And so it goes.

  5. John F Croston III said on

    So far I have been able to avoid joining Facebook or MySpace. Lucky me.

    People will always look for some way of passing time, like playing solitaire, way back when most people did not have access to the internet. Yes, I’m that old.

    I do spend a bit of time on Twitter, e-mail, and blogs for short breaks, before getting right back to work. Most of it is usually done during lunch time.

    To much to do and not enought time to do it.

  6. Travis Vocino said on

    There are, of course, those that are utilizing the networks for good or evil to brand and promote their warez. The corporate world, especially the record industry, has a machine-like workflow that promptly establishes a new artist a presence on every social network out there.

    These marketing machines go where the eyeballs are. They couldn’t care less whether it’s Facebook or HotorNot or some other horrible excuse for a web application (i.e. MySpace).

  7. Matt Munsey said on

    Interesting prediction and it is right in line with Paul Boag’s thoughts that many web 2.0 companies will deflate this year. Like a soufflé is how he put it I believe. I am eager to see how all this unravels.

    Man kind has always looked for ways to blame their problems on everything but themselves. It was only a matter of time before social networking to a hit I guess.

  8. Gareth said on

    It was the same with telephones right? People would always get tsked for making too many personal calls in the office but it’s rarely commented on these days.

    Same goes for these web sites – some people find them useful or enjoyable and some don’t. The majority of those people still have jobs to do though , so a balance will always be struck. It shouldn’t be a big deal.

    These companies may well deflate and most likely so will most people’s interest in them as their optimum usefulness is reached and our priorities level-out.

    Unlike the telephone or email, I think social networking apps have so far failed to bring any really important benefits to the workplace.

  9. RayMcK said on

    So far I have been able to avoid joining Facebook or MySpace. Lucky me.

    You ain’t missin’ much. I’ve got one of each and rarely use either any more.

  10. Philip said on

    I’m curious how you know Facebook is losing money or where that fact comes from? i understand they must have insane server costs, but they have a lot of revenue sources.

    A couple days ago they had a “gift” for sale that was limited to 10,000 (most days, the gifts are “limited” to 500,000 or so). At $1 a pop, it sold out by mid-afternoon. $10,000 in one day from one revenue source doesn’t seem like loosing money. While that was a good gift and they probably don’t sell that many every day, they still have Facebook ads that are constantly being bought by advertising companies and FB users alike as well as “normal” ads for advert companies.

    Are their expenses $300,000+ a month?

    –Your final paragraph: the unfortunate truth, eh?

  11. Andrew said on

    So the planet warms and the Kenyans kill their neighbors and we tweet about nothing and hope the servers hold out.

    I share that cynicism. I still believe the web can be a vehicle for good, and good change, but much of it is filling up with the same type of junk primetime network TV is full with. I suppose the market has spoken, we want to be distracted, not engaged.

    As for me, I will continue to not use the new social media unless it falls under the category of “good change” and not “useless information.”

  12. Jon Buda said on

    I see Twitter in the same light as most reality TV shows. Pretty much useless, entirely too addictive, and probably bad for your general well-being is some way.

    I propose that Twitter implement some kind of Tweet Tax (tweetax?) that is donated to a cause that IS actually useful. Maybe a penny per tweet (who uses pennies these days anyways?) or a nickel or something like that.

    Then again it should probably be in a currency other than the US dollar considering its downward trend recently…

  13. Gene said on

    While everyone is wasting their time on Facebook, here’s our chance to take advantage of the semi-barren field and make the most of our non-facebook productivity. Woo! But wait…

    Does reading multiple blog entries & responding to replies count as ‘dwindling productivity’ too?

  14. Nathaniel Buck said on

    I’m a college student and I’ve turned away from Facebook. It used to be nice, simple, and gated, but has now opened its internet doors to the world. This is besides the point, but also with the addition of applications, I feel that it has decreased in value.

    However, Facebook still grows in popularity, as does Twitter. The difference between the two is that Facebook has advertisements, sponsors, and other ways of making money (as Philip mentioned above.) Twitter, on the other hand, has none of this. I’ve never thought about how they pay for their hosting and server costs, but I certainly hope that they are able to stay afloat, even if it means changing how they do things.

  15. Noel Jackson said on

    Facebook makes me diarrheal. MySpace gives me chest pains (angina). It’s all the result of feature creep… either that or humans like overloaded ugly? Or both.

    I’d really like to stay up with others’ lives but it seems I have to choose between biting chimps or nothing at all.

  16. Anonymous said on

    No, It’s easier to say Thiel.

  17. webchick said on

    >As for me, I will continue to not use the new
    >social media unless it falls under the category
    >of “good change” and not “useless information.”

    There are efforts out there that fall under “good change” – such as LibraryThing – or the brand-spanking new EveryBlock – which is really a data aggregator – linking out to other social sites. I would imagine that adding a social layer would be a desirable thing to do once they reach critical mass. I also like ma.gnolia – and not just for its spiffy standards-based design.

    And that is kind of the crux of the matter for me – I don’t understand the idea behind productizing some of these social sites – what is the product? It’s an aspect of the medium, not a product. When a community is actually producing something, be it a tagged library of bookmarks, an annotated collection of media, a petition to the government – then it is actually worth something. My $.02.

  18. Marina Martin said on

    I disagree that Twitter or Facebook are inherently productivity-killers. Both can be used as productivity-enhancers. I’m a corporate efficiency consultant and I regularly encourage clients and business associates to sign-up for both.

    If you build a strong community on Twitter, it’s not about “I ate toast for breakfast.” (This is a rather self-fulfilling prophecy, as if all you tweet about is your breakfast, fewer people will be interested in following you.) Instead, it’s a community and a powerful immediate feedback system.

    Have a quick web site design question? Don’t dig around on Google — just ask Twitter. Need a suggestion for a place to meet a client for lunch in downtown Dallas? Ask Twitter. Limited to 140 characters a pop, you get fast, concise answers to your questions. Over time, different people become trusted sources on different things — there’s a chef on Twitter I asked to recommend a green smoothie recipe, and PHP gurus I can ask to look at a snippet of code. Everyday I see people hired for freelance (or even full-time) jobs over Twitter, and it has been a strong source of new business for my efficiency consulting, as well.

    Facebook is similar — if you build your network carefully, it’s not about favorite music or Facebook Apps, but rather about who you know where. Never underestimate the power of even a “simple” lunch with someone you’ve met on Facebook — it’s a great networking and introduction tool.

  19. Tim said on

    if all you tweet about is your breakfast, fewer people will be interested in following you

    Here here Marina – Content is King, and for web 2.0 especially it’s survival of the fittest, which can only be a good thing in this context.

  20. Linda said on

    Thanks for that ‘eye opener’! I have viewed both of these as a waster of time and a way for Internet marketers to sell unnecessary products to newbies.

    I will think about how to benefit from these sites in a new way…

  21. The Bat said on

    Now that I have world in my lap, or wherever my iBook is resting, I find myself more often self-imposing isolation.

  22. svakanda said on

    Jeffrey Zeldman, you just made my day!

  23. WTTF: » Bird Flu Passé said on

    [...] The bird flu movie of the week. [...]

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