Saturday, October 30, 2010

Has Facebook Peaked?

If Hollywood has gone and made a movie about Facebook, then Facebook has probably peaked. 
  
“One of us, one of us, one of us . . .”
Looking at the numbers, it would seem that FB has definitely peaked: On July 22 of 2010, it got its 500 millionth user—but now three months later, it’s at 543 million. 
  
The inference is easy to make: From the halcyon days of consistently charting 25 million new users per month, Facebook is now going up by about 14 million new users per month. 
  
Still: 14 million users a month? The implications are staggering. 
  
FB doesn’t release numbers of users who’ve quit—rather cagily, they say that, on any given day, half of all users log on to Facebook. 
  
But none of that really matters: Who has registered, and now is inactive, who registered and is on every day, who registered and is sporadic, who registered and now wants their Facebook account shut down and disappeared—all of that is trivial and unimportant, compared to the central and obvious fact that they all registered on Facebook.  
  
This means? It means that one corporation has managed to get the basic personal information of roughly ten percent of the world. 
  
That’s epochalNo wonder the fuckers in Hollywood made a movie about the people behind the Facebook program. So let’s not get too cavalier and condescending, when discussing this remarkable achievement. 
  

Regardless of what happens, unless a meteor comes out of the sky and blows away the computer servers holding all that information, the implications of the Facebook program are going to be with us for decades to come. Yes, decades
  
Facebook is a big deal. 
  
Now, there are myriad issues regarding the Facebook program—my concerns are two-fold: The marketing possibilities, and the corporatist issues. Both concerns sort of meld into one another in my head, so I won’t try making a hard-and-fast distinction between the two as I write. 
  
Facebook is a marketer’s wet dream: It is the largest market survey ever carried out—and the beauty of it is, the Facebook program quantifies all the market preferences of its users, making them easy targets for market campaigns. 
  
A lot of people are concerned about privacy rights, vis-à-vis the Facebook program—they should be, but the battle is lost: Facebook users are the traitors in this war. They themselves signed away their privacy, when they gave out their information to Facebook. 
  
What, the Facebook corporation isn’t going to make use of all this data it’s collected? Dream on, fool—and if you’re still dreamin’, then I got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell ya. 
  
Of course the Facebook corporation is going to use all the data it’s collected: There is really no other use for all this data. The Facebook program is the world’s largest personal database. The world’s largest corporate database. The Facebook corporation will sell this data to other corporations—I’m frankly assuming it already is doing so. 
  
Therefore, as the Facebook corporation interacts more and more with other corporations looking for the sweet data the Facebook program has collected, the Facebook corporation could easily become the lynchpin of most marketing campaigns. It would eclipse Google, because although Google is everywhere, it doesn’t have the targeted data that the Facebook program has collected. 
  
In other words, Google is the weapons system—but Facebook is the guidance system. The target is the same—the consumer. But only one of the two components is invaluable. The other is simply brute force. 
  
This guidance that Facebook can provide because of all the data it has accumulated will put it in the position to dictate to its corporate customers how it will share that data. The Facebook corporation would be wise to never share the data—rather, it should import the corporate client’s business plan, and run it out of the Facebook corporation’s offices. 
  
If the data Facebook has accumulated goes out the door, then it’s lost—so Facebook can’t do that: Facebook itself will guard the privacy of its users—but it will sell that data very dearly to it corporate customers, who will have to play ball with the Facebook corporation. 
  
So long as Facebook never allows its data out the door, it’s in the driver’s seat. 
  
Do I want Facebook to succeed? No. Am I a fan? Not at all. 
  
My own experience with Facebook has not been particularly pleasant. It hasn’t been un-pleasant: It’s been . . . creepy. 
  
I only started three months ago, as a support for my blog. 
  
Unlike the best tech—Apple, Twitter, Blogger, Google—I found Facebook surprisingly convoluted and complicated to use: Apart from its soothing blue-on-white color scheme, aesthetically it’s a mess. 
  
But that’s not what made it creepy: For me, the initial entry was creepy. 
  
When it asked me for my likes and dislikes in different forms of entertainment—books, music, movies, and so on—the program quickly tried to offer me convenient shortcuts. I began to type my favorite kind of music—“Cl—”—and before I had input the vowel, Facebook was suggesting “Classical”, “Club music”. 
  
The program was like a sieve, quickly trying to sort me into a kind. Whether I liked classical music or club music really wasn’t the issue—the issue was pinning me down as to one or the other. It could have been both—the program didn’t care: It just wanted me to pick. To choose. To define my taste. 
  
This of course points to one of the key shortcomings of the very concept of online existence: A human being’s experience is not a collection of likes and dislikes—rather, it’s the journey whereby you come to realize your likes and dislikes. 
  
Facebook doesn’t understand that. It’s an inherently conservative program; it is not a program that is temperamentally suited for ambiguity, or even has much room for ambiguity. It wants you to choose from within a limited scope of possibilities—a very wide scope of possibilities, perhaps, but a limited and defined scope. 
  
So there’s not much room for explorations, in Facebook: Just more of the same. 
  
The other thing I found creepy about the program was its thirst to gain access to every little scrap of quantifiable information about me. 
  
After a couple of weeks of using the program, all of a sudden, I was denied access to my user account, until I provided the program my cell phone number. I deliberately have an anonymous, pre-paid cell phone—there’s no registry anywhere that my particular number is attached to me. I like it fine that way. 
  
But the Facebook program was saying that it needed my cell phone number, so that it could send me a confirmation code, to verify that I was indeed a human being, and not a machine with a Facebook account. 
  
Now of course, every time you send a message via Facebook to one of the other users, you have a cofirmation code: So as to ascertain that you are carbon-based as opposed to silicone-based. I had filled out those confirmation codes all the time, every time I sent a message. I had proven I was human. 
  
So why was the Facebook program all of a sudden demanding my cell phone number, in order to access my account? Could it be that it had realized that I had not input my number in the space provided for my cell phone number? As a collectioner, could Facebook be a completist?
  
Absolutely—and a bully about it, too. Because—like a bully—it refused access to my user account, which I had been checking a couple of times a day. I would regain access only on surrendering my cell phone number—no other way. 
  
But I refused—so I skipped Facebook and refused to go back and use it. 
  
So then—just like a bully who’s faced with someone who won’t back down—the program contacted me, via e-mail: It asked me to return. When I tried to log on, presto: No more requests for my cell phone number. No more strong arm tactics—I’m guessing until, of course, I’m fully hooked into the Facebook experience. Then it’ll probably ask me for my cell phone number again. 
  
The experience of using the Facebook program is eerie. 
  
See, when you interact with another human being in person, all sorts of tells clue in the person you’re speaking to: They can tell your confidence, your social position, your brain-pan power, your social ability—everything. There is a reason people still prefer face-to-face business meetings, rather than closing deals over the phone or via e-mail: You can sense so much about a person, by the trivial act of talking to them unmediated. 
  
Facebook, of course, doesn’t have that. People have critiqued the program for providing superficial connections with “friends” who don’t really rise to the level of acquaintance. My own thinking dismisses the superficiality, and goes towards the niggardlyness of the Facebook social experience. 
  
Since it deprives interlocutors with all the unspoken but necessary cues that people share with one another, Facebook makes social interactions not merely superficial, but precarious. Very limited information is passed between two people via the Facebook program. 
  
The addictiveness that many Facebook users have spoken of is really highlighting the lack of social feedback inherent in the Facebook program. The lack of social reassurance—an automatic part of real-world social interaction—makes users of the Facebook program highly reactionary: They are literally standing by, to find out the reaction a particular action of theirs has elicited, and which will therefore elicit a reaction from them in return. 
  
Thus communication is not a series of infinitesimal incremental back-and-forth feedbacks—as one would experience in an ordinary, real-world conversation—but rather a slow, over-dramatic series of interactions via the clumsy method of “messaging” and “poking” and other such Facebook program devices. 
  
All of these communications devices that the Facebook program offers its users simultaneously limit the amount of humain interaction that can be exchanged, and heighten the drama, because of the inherent slowness of the interaction. 
  
Compare a Facebook interaction with a regular real-world interaction: In the real-world, two people joke, touch each other, smile, scowl, and exchange a myriad different feedbacks, the actions-reactions infinitesimal, yet crucial for a smooth, undramatic interaction. Something as trivial as a couple asking one another “What’s for dinner?” contains endless layers of interaction, all happening at lightning speed, often multiple exchanges on different layers of meaning occurring simultaneously—and unspoken. 
  
This level of sophistication is impossible to the Facebook program—so the lack of informational exchange creates uncertainty between the two people. The inability to touch one another to give reassurance, to smile instantly at a joke, to frown the second an uncool thing is said creates a dramatic tension in the Facebook user, which accounts for much of the addictiveness of the program—and the reason it is so popular. 
  
The cost, of course, is peace of mind. And complexity. 
  
A friend of mine, Tarek, called Facebook “the Cartoon Network”, because it’s so flat: Everything is reducible to very two-dimensional items. 
  
He’s right, of course: The Facebook program encourages people to define themselves by things, rather than by process. “What music do you like? Classical. What genre of books do you read? Literary”—but this call-and-respond dynamic doesn’t encompass the human experience of discovering what it is tha you like or dislike. 
  
And that’s the essential component of friendship, the very raison d’être of Facebook—making friends. 
  
Ther interaction with another human being that allows you to discover new things is interrupted by the Facebook program. 
  
In junior high-school, it was a friend who turned me on to Rush. And then there was another friend who explained to us both how “2112” was structured like a symphoney, and how this led to listening to Tchaikovsky, and then getting into the Pathétique: Three junior high-school stoners, listening to Tchaikovsky on a record player in a suburban home—totally clean-and-sober—and being blown away by the shared experience. 
  
This cannot happen on Facebook. The process of discovery is interrupted—short-circuited, rather—and the final result is arrived at quickly: The music you like, the book you like, the movie you like. But not the how you liked the thing that you like. 
  
Human beings are not a conflation of likes and dislikes: They are the sum of the process of arriving at these discrete likes and dislikes. The likes and dislikes, in and of themselves, are unimportant. What matters is, how you got there. 
  
Facebook has no algorithm for this central feature of the human experience. That’s why my guess is, Facebook will soon attract only the very young, the very foolish, and the very lonely. The rest will move on from this fad. 
  
The corporations, however, will be using the information people so foolishly surrendered to the Facebook program for decades to come. 
  

23 comments:

  1. There are so many issues at hand as of now, with privacy issues, through Facebook datamining, being one of them.

    In a dictatorial society that the U.S. and the other Western societies are regressing into, that data could be used against the citizens.

    However, you can opt out of Facebook.

    One of the most alarming other issues, that you can't opt out of, is addressed to in the new "What in the world are they spraying? (Chemtrails)" documentary that is available in Youtube.

    I urge everyone to watch it.

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  2. "That’s why my guess is, Facebook will soon attract only the very young, the very foolish, and the very lonely."

    Dead on. Brilliant.

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  3. My wife and I are both mid 30s, educated at the best American private universities, and we are the only of our friends who have NOT registered for Facebook. We like it that way.

    The amount of time wasted on a daily basis by the obese and lazy American people must be mind-boggling. It is just another cancer in our declining society.

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  4. Got rid of my FB page this morning. I too got tired of it.

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  5. I resisted Facebook for years, but once I joined I was contacted by a cousin from England and a friend friend from Italy. For that alone it was worth it because I had lost track of these people.
    I do agree with you though that Facebook has peaked.

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  6. I don't disagree. I just have one thing to add. Not only does FB collect reams of information about its users, it manages to get the user to act in the capacity of an unpaid data entry clerk. It's brilliant, and no, I do not have a FB account.

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  7. I note the pride some people take in the fact that they don't use Facebook (I suppose they consider themselves above the unwashed masses). I enjoy Facebook because it is an easy way to keep up with a number of family members and friends in a way that in past impossible. I understand that it's a marketers wet dream but to discount Facebook to the point that you take pride in not using it says more about you than anything else.

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  8. Facebook is a great way to get in touch with people I've lost touch with. Because of Facebook I've actually had a chance to visit friends face-to-face who I haven't seen in years.

    Corporations, entrepreneurs and government agencies are not welcome to my personal info on Facebook but there is nothing there that they can't get from from credit/debit card or phone companies or Amazon.com or my cable provider or credit rating agencies or other government agencies -- which of those do you think will jealously guard my information?

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  9. Ah, Facebook and the Social Network! Here's something fascinating to consider:

    Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO is Jewish.
    Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder is Jewish.
    Justin Rosenstein, co-founder is Jewish.

    Jesse Eisenberg, actor for Mr. Zuckerberg is Jewish.
    David Fincher, director is Jewish.
    Aaron Sorkin, screenplay writer is Jewish.
    Ben Mezrich, book author is Jewish.

    Are you believer in the coincidence theory?

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  10. Dear Anonymous, your resentment of your Jewish superiors is more than evident. It seems like being Jewish removes any chance you'll be recognized for your hard work or intellectual insight. With people like anonymous out there is there any wonder why our world is in the situation it's in...?

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  11. @buysilver

    I think what Anonymous is saying is that Jews are smart, resourceful, creative and hard working. (At least that's one way to look at it! He didn't actually say anything negative.)

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  12. There is a war going on. You know the players, but the objective is a mystery to you.

    Everyone is engaged in this war, whether you like it or not. Even if you don't have a FB account. Even if you don't even have an internet connection, there is no way out of this war. It exists physically, electronically, ethereally. It is ongoing with everyone, everywhere at once.

    The most pernicious aspect of this war is that most of the participants don't even know they are involved. They live their lives, thinking they are doing so according to their own private desires, when really they have merely been suited up, outfitted with weapons, given scant training, and thrust into the theater.

    For those who have so far managed to escape its ravages, and who have broken free of the brainwashing, their's is a cruel realization: they are hopelessly outnumbered.

    Not by the enemy, for the enemy is few in number. In fact, if all of the unwitting combatants were to somehow someday awaken from their induced stupor and understand who their True Enemy is, the war would be over in days, hours. It would come to a grinding halt and the enemy would be utterly crushed, vanquished, destroyed.

    The reality is that we are outnumbered by our fellow combatants, who aimlessly battle on, not understanding or even knowing that what they are doing is killing not only themselves, but everyone around them whom they love. Worse yet, they think the battles they are fighting are helping their cause. They are actually in the process of committing suicide.

    The enemy is Us. The washed masses of humanity that have fallen prey to the depredations of the True Enemy, who have taken everything good about humanity and used it as a weapon of mass destruction against Us, all in the pursuit of filthy lucre. It is not enough to live a good life of honesty and integrity, to do a job well done and to make others happy. No, their desire, their craving, is to bring misery and despair to all others that cross their path. Their empty souls can not ever be filled with the hate and greed they desperately extract from us all. There is no end because the void within them is limitless. It is the hollow nothingness of eternity. They thrive on your participation in the war.

    The war is your daily life, the illusion of your existence. The primary weapon of battle is the expectations that have been placed upon you. You will lose, always, without fail. In fact, there are no winners in this war, only losers.

    But there is one paradox about this war: the harder one fights, the harsher will be your defeat. No tactic, no maneuver, no brilliantly executed battle plan will change this outcome. If you fight, no matter how bravely or how well, you will lose. But if you understand the paradox, you will see the way. The one final blow that can be administered anywhere and at anytime, and in fact that does not require even a single enemy to be present, for its power can reach even the furthest of our enemy sequestered away in the securest of compounds, is to simply stop fighting. Put down your weapons and withdraw from the war.

    Reject the insanity and redeem your humanity.

    Call it Apathy with Purpose. The way to win is to stop fighting. Give up the hopes and dreams that were molded within you whilst you were entrapped in the stupor thrust upon you. Those are not your desires, they are merely icons. They are the delusional mirages that await you at the end of your toil. They are nothing more than ghosts and shadows.

    You must find your own true purpose. You must sow what you would like to reap.

    And you must do all this without anyone's help and assistance, because there will be no one to help you. You must do this on your own. No presidents, no governors, no leaders, no experts: they are all false prophets. They are all pawns in the war you left behind. The path is yours alone to take, and walk it you must. Your only other recourse is to keep fighting, and losing.

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  13. My wife and I have, altogether, five Facebook accounts. The Slamlander is but one of them. I also run my own mailserver and have a virtually unlimited number of users at my disposal.

    I am sure that I am not the only one. In fact, I am only one of thousands or even millions. What dou you think that does to FB's statistics?

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  14. @chumbawamba

    True freedom is being self-reliant but it should not be confused with being selfish. The way you fight is by trying to educate and trying to help others escape to freedom.

    To quote chumbawamba on another site: "Buy gold and silver bitchez!!"

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  15. Has it occurred to anybody here that you don't have to fill out any of those questions. I have a facebook account and the only thing on my profile is a wrong birthdate. No likes or dislikes or political or religious views. So I don't see the problem here.

    As far as technology ruining social interaction, it is what you make of it. People have been complaining about that ever since radio came out. Probably before. Radio, movies, TV, they all get in the way of real face to face conversation. Now shush! I'm watching something!

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  16. Great interview in Financial Sense. I really enjoyed your insights into South America. I recently had a friend move to Chile from Vancouver and he's loving it down there.

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  17. If face book goes out of business anytime soon it might actually make the world a better place since every time I go to school each morning just about everyone is usually on facebook looking at pixels which look like faces instead of actually talking to someone with a real face.

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  18. This is for Chumbawawa: Chumba, I remember you well, and miss most (albeit not all) of your acerbic posts in another site. Your take on Facebook, etc.(frankly I think that GOOG is by far a worse offender), is spot on. BTW, most do not know where you are coming from, so perhaps a bit less angst and a spot more edited explication might be worth a try.

    The real problem is that all such sites shall be required in the very near future to allow various interests of .gov to peek into all and everything, courtesy of the expanded so-called "Patriot Act," which was upgraded under Obama.

    Yes, the Bamster decided (now that he's the Decider) that 'ol W may have had a few good ideas, especially those pertaining to excising freedom of speech, etc. The only real remedy right now is to pay for an out of country mail service, because everything hosted in-country is subject to this tyrannical law (and don't get me started on the TSA), and God only knows where the parameters of permitted speech shall finally alight. Sovereign Man recommends the site www.cryptohippie.org. I have not tried it--yet--but plan to in the near future.
    Best,
    aka Puckles

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  19. @slamlander: don't they have access to MAC addresses and/or IP addresses? At any rate, I think their statistical methods are probably chosen to be robust against all but the most subtle and well-informed manipulation.

    Mr. Lira, I think you might have missed the worst application of these data. Facebook has done a tremendous amount of research on how social networks form, and respond to damage.

    Using the understanding built from that body of data, an action like the Cointelpro could be carried out with much greater subtlety, simply nudging the offending group, from within, to become more and more brittle, most especially to lose trust in those members who would be most important to its recovery.

    Were I working for Microsoft, for example, I would hire Facebook to do some consulting on strategies to disrupt Mozilla and OpenOffice. I would then pick one target to go after first, assign a couple developers to contribute mediocre code, and hire some writers to participate on the developers' mailing list on those developers' behalf in subtly dysfunctional ways.

    -Lessing

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  20. From my vantage point, Facebook is all about sharing. So anyone now could set up an incognito profile and pretend to have a lot of friends, and stalk their every post (via the stream). It's a lot less efficient than automation, but it's here right now.

    Google on the other hand knows what you look for that no one else does. If you have Chrome, they practically know your every keystroke. Yes I agree Facebook is useless.

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  21. It's just another tool, make of it what you will. FB doesn't have any more info on me than so many other sources, like insurance, where your compelled to give personal info lest you are rejected. I've reached a point where I just don't give a shit about the implications of participating in almost anything anymore, there's so much crap ready to blow up in our faces, just be prepared and live life to the fullest.I Enjoy and learn from your writing Gonzalo! By the way, re: the comment from "No Bullshit" a great example of a well educated, pompous ass!

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  22. The answer at this point in the game is for everyone to flood the system with spurious information which will render it useless for all intents. Must be done intelligently (lost the war there!) so that a 'bot cannot sift to good stuff out.

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  23. Hey Gonzalo,
    can you provide a print function here so I can print the blogs?
    TIA - keep it up!
    Dani

    ReplyDelete

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