Facebook and the Working Adult: Fad or Revolution?

If you pick up the buzz on the most popular blogs lately, it’s like the online world woke up and suddenly discovered Facebook at exactly the same time. What a difference an open API can make when developers want to connect with millions of users. Some may be sick of hearing about the social network, but you can’t deny that some sort of lightning has hit. Now no one knows quite what to make of it. Robert Scoble asks simply, “Why Facebook, Why Now?”

For web workers, there may be a lot of answers to that question.

Like many others, I joined Facebook in the last few weeks, curious about the new application platform. I scanned my personal contact list to find current Facebook members and spent some time exploring the service. The experience has been a bit of a revelation. For starters, let’s just say that I’ve been out of Facebook’s original target demographic for longer than I was in it. There is currently just one person on Facebook who graduated from my college the same year that I did. Searching for members who graduated from my high school class in 1984 turned up no matches at all. Rather than slinking off to drink my Geritol, I pushed forward on the network, adding a couple of dozen friends along the way from both my personal and professional history. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the experience on all levels, and how easy a visit to my Facebook page has worked into my daily routine.

As someone not looking for a date or a party, why is Facebook engaging me in a way that competing network LinkedIn has not? As Robert Scoble accurately complains about LinkedIn:

I dropped off LinkedIn a year ago cause the expected useage model there is to have your friends do things for you. Pass along resumes, give references, etc. Because of my popularity I simply got too many requests to do those things. There is no such expectation on Facebook.

On LinkedIn you take your connections out to pet every now and then, but otherwise the site is rather static if you’re not the type to push on your connections to make contacts for you. You may know when your connections change jobs, and you may know the people they’re adding to their own network, but contact is limited and/or costly beyond that. On the other hand, Facebook gives me a glimpse into the lives of my friends and colleagues with no expectation of specific action on their part to build connections for me. If we have friends in common, we have friends in common. Networks are open, but one’s own. I can update Facebook easily from my blog or other social networks that have a link to a Facebook application. And Facebook does it all in a clean, consistent and easy interface that doesn’t assault my eyes and ears the way a MySpace page does.

Professionally, I believe Facebook has the potential to significantly impact web working. Shout if you never “talked shop” at a family barbeque when you’ve had the opportunity to chat about something related to your work that you enjoy. Shout if you never had a personal conversation with a colleague. ::crickets:: I thought so. Truth is, while there is a line between our work and personal lives, it’s a moving one. Facebook applications allow you to position that “line” between your worlds where you feel most comfortable. For example, I added the Causes application to my profile and created a cause to fight colorectal cancer through advocacy, with the hope of using the viral network to help promote the mission and activities of the nonprofit organization I get paid to work for. My father died of colon cancer in 1999. Is it business, or is it personal? In the end…does the distinction really matter? It’s still all about people.

How will Facebook survive the long haul if the advertising model isn’t profitable? Who knows. For now, with business-minded applications like Zoho coming aboard, Facebook is worth watching for those of us that rely on the ‘net for building our personal and business relationships.

Have you discovered a life on Facebook beyond college? Share you thoughts (and favorite Facebook applications) in the comments.

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