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June 30, 2007

Can you be too popular?

If you are Facebook you might be. As for if you are on Facebook, I doubt it. Though Jimmy Carr had over 3,000 'friends' when last I looked.

Facebook could be in a bind. A colleague (in her 20s - when to find someone on there over 29 was a rarity - yonks ago, perhaps even two months back) mentioned the site to me as something interesting businesses should be aware of and could even benefit from as a way of engaging staff and communicating with them.

As you will now know, it has exploded in a glorious example of tipping points, network theories and viral marketing frenzy. PhD students must be tripping over each other to analyse it.

The problem I anticipate is this. The company opened up its API to application developers. The scope, then, is there for all kinds of web-based tools to be accessed via Facebook - webmail to name but one. This makes it more usable but also gives good cause to corporations, already concerned about the time staff spend poking each other online to block the site.

Thus the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater.

The impact on Facebook is primarily that it gets less use and therefore less ad revenue. More significantly in the long run, however, its initial potential to connect people and maintain networks that are more than a substitute for existing tools (email, mobile etc) is reduced. Currently you can be a member of your company's network. However, for the most part businesses are not using these to engage with staff or break down silos within their organisations.

Even more significantly, Facebook is approaching the critical mass that enables us to maintain our business contacts. If you've tried to implement a CRM (customer/contact relationship management) database, you will appreciate how damned hard it is to get people to do this. Businesses are ever more intent on getting staff to leverage their external contacts - tools like Facebook could enable this.

I have a few suggestions, then, that might address this and keep Facebook accessible and potentially more useful:

1. Create a 'work-friendly' access point with slimmed down access to applications to minimise the security risks to businesses
2. Enable users to designate (non-mutually exclusive) 'work' and 'social' contacts (should they wish to) to manage reputational issues more subtly
3. Engage with major businesses to see how Facebook can be of benefit to business
4. And businesses - rather than removing access from corporate IT networks - add a fair use of social networking tools into the IT policy

Any further thoughts?

June 30, 2007 in Web/Tech | Permalink

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Comments

I like your idea of having a "work" and "social" pivacy setting. You could even have different profile pictures visible to these groups (but both visible on your own profile) - a sombre one and a riotous one.

We need to remember that online networking goes further than facebook. It goes "back/sideways" to MySpace (which, in contrast to Facebook's illusion of space and cleanliness, gives me a feeling that I'm looking at things I shouldn't be), and forward to Second Life. Businesses need to realise that this is only a continuation of the commnications revolution; it needs to be nudged in a direction that will benefit them.

This is evolving fast - facebook alone is growing at 3% a week, due to hit 50m users by the end of 2007. It will mutate just as quickly, and the only way for big businesses to understand the impact on them is to actively listen to their young staff. And I mean young. I'm 25 and already off the scale. The oldies need to give responsibility to the grads, and it needs to be taken seriously.

Posted by: Helen Pearce | Jun 30, 2007 5:34:04 PM

People should read this.

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