There are approximately 6.9 billion people on Earth and some 2 billion of them are online. Currently Facebook has 550 million users, expanding by 700,00 new users every day. Facebook will likely reach all 2 billion internet users within the next five years.
I read the above in an article by TIME Magazine – their 2010 People of The Year piece on Mark Zuckerberg. (I realize I am probably a little late reading the magazine but it was a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law who I’m convinced gives me all her People and TIME magazines because she is convinced I would have no clue about pop culture or current events otherwise. As I have no television, she may be right.)
Despite my lateness I was both fascinated and more than a little creeped out to read about Facebook’s meteoric rise and how it will likely continue to grow…like the weed that you think you can just yank out of the ground and then you discover it has feeder roots spreading out in every direction 20, 30 and 40 feet from the original plant. Facebook is everywhere, those little blue and white boxes urging you, luring you, silently coercing you to LIKE them no matter where you are on the web. Thanks to Facebook Connect two million websites are already affiliated with Facebook and 10,000 new web sites integrate with Facebook every. single. day. And we are not talking web sites with only a few readers here. Facebook counts The New York Times, Amazon, YouTube and even social networking rival MySpace among the sites that allow you to not only log in using your Facebook Login, but also to comment publicly on the site using your Facebook Public Profile as an Avatar.
The logic behind this is that as you use Facebook and surf the web every person’s profile becomes customized to their individual preferences, and there is no guessing involved. The scary part is that the customization is eerily accurate because it is based on actual choices, clicks, LIKES. If you get an ad on your page for REI Outdoor Adventure Apparel – it is because you somehow indicated that as an interest. Therefore your page won’t look like your neighbor’s page or even your best friends. Your preferences will not only show up as ads on your sidebar but as items in your News feed on your wall. Even better for advertisers is that it also appears on your friends News feed – as a personal endorsement from you. As TIME puts it, the holy grail of marketing and advertising – you do the work for them.
When I first read about Facebook Connect in May 2008 I was both impressed and freaked out. While I have strict privacy controls on my own Facebook account I will admit to being just like anyone else when it comes to sharing. At times you feel compelled – it is like writing a good review for good service and who wouldn’t want to do that? (I spent approximately 10 years in one aspect or another of the service industry so perhaps I am slightly biased…) It goes the other way to. If you receive bad service you want the world to know about it lest the same thing happen to anyone else. Facebook also allows you the platform to sympathize/rejoice/bitch with one another about anything under the sun.
Say you had a great cup of coffee from a small unknown retailer – talk about it on Facebook and next thing you know five of your friends have had a similar experience, the store starts to receive increased business, offers a Facebook discount which leads to another good Facebook post – the circle continues. This can be great for the small businessman. However say you bought a purse from well-known retailer but they forgot to remove the security tag. you call and speak to the manager who assures you that all you need to do is come in and bring your receipt. You explain that you will do that but want them to know that you are going out of your way to do this and that you bought the purse for a special function that evening and will not be able to use it since the store is closing in ten minutes and you can’t get back down there until the following afternoon. You head down to the store the next day and are stopped at the door when you set off the anti-theft alarm. Despite your attempts to explain you are escorted to the back room where you are interrogated by security. The manager you called is not on duty and didn’t leave any kind of note. You finally get it sorted out but by the time you leave you not only have missed an appointment but are also twenty minutes late for the next one. When you finally get there the first thing you do is flip open your Blackberry and tell the whole world via Facebook about your experience. By that evening twenty of your friends have commented on the situation and you have pretty much decided you will never shop there again. Your friends on campus commiserate with you and promise they will stop shopping there as well making a public pledge on Facebook. By the time 24 hours has gone by a fan page dedicated to receiving bad service at that particular retailer has been created and over 100 people have become a fan, leaving comments either supporting you or leaving their own bad experience. Facebook allowed you the platform to single-handedly make a dent in the local customer base of a large retailer. Thanks to the social aspect of everything we do, including how we shop, the store lost not one, but probably more than a dozen customers. Powerful stuff.
What’s next for Facebook?
So back to the article. Zuckerberg was asked what he thought the future of Facebook was. Would it go public? Would he ever sell? Would it eventually take over the world? He didn’t seem to think that Facebook would go public anytime soon (he doesn’t exactly need the money) but was more interested in how Facebook would expand. For someone who values his own privacy to the point that you can’t even become his friend on Facebook he seems to have an almost obsessive need to connect everyone else, whether they want to play or not. (One of the latest features of Facebook is that your friends can “check you in” to places if they see you out somewhere without your permission and without you knowing…unless you un-check a box in at least three different places. So much for keeping your recent visit to the Ob-Gyn private, somebody saw you!) More people are on Facebook than any other social network (550 million) with Facebook having the population of a small country (3rd largest) and claiming more than 700 billion online minutes a month. One out of every four American page views is for Facebook even though 70 percent of its user base is outside the United States. In seven years we have gone from having Facebook be a college co-ed’s distraction to an entity that outranks Google with the terms “Facebooking” and “Facebookization” being recognized and used just as Google became interchangeable with Search.
For as many people who love Facebook you can find almost as many who despise it and the way it has changed the way the world works. However the one thing everyone can agree on is that it has changed things…and there is no going back.
What do you think about the way Facebook is changing the way we do things? Will Facebook become the new Google and will it eventually reach every internet user? I’d love to hear your thoughts!