I came across a post in my news feeds on Friday, and didn’t think much of it at first. It was a post by a guy who writes about education at a blog called Square Peg, and it was about Facebook. I was in a hurry, so I moved on and figured I would go back to it. When I re-read it on the weekend, I thought it was fascinating — not so much because of what it’s about (a marketing group that hijacked some university Facebook groups) but because of how it has evolved over the past few days.
It’s like a war, except with programmers and social networks instead of soldiers and anti-aircraft artillery. First Google opened up its distributed social net, Google Friend Connect — which I have installed in my sidebar and also embedded below — and then Facebook threw open the doors on its version, imaginatively called (what else) Facebook Connect. The aim of both ventures is the same: to allow you to use your login credentials from the network on various sites around the Web, bringing your social profile with you wherever you go. In the process, both companies no doubt hope to entice more people to build a social network based on their tools and services (for some reason I’m reminded of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church at this point, but that might just be me).
It’s a small thing, but it made me laugh out loud when I read it: the government of Ontario (the province I live in, for those of you outside Canada) has been confronted by a grassroots protest against legislation for young drivers. More than 110,000 people have signed up for a Facebook group that was set up in opposition to the proposed law, which would (among other things) restrict drivers who have a G1 or intermediate licence from carrying more than one other passenger under the age of 21. The law emerged at least in part because of a horrible accident in which a car full of twenty-somethings heading home from a party wound up going off the road and killing three of the four passengers.
It’s bad enough that people pay any attention to Forbes magazine’s pathetic “my portfolio is bigger than your portfolio” list of rich people, but at least most of the people on the list have actual assets that can be measured in some objective fashion — i.e., by stock-market value. But young Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, manages to get on the list at #321 with what Forbes calls a “net worth” of $1.5-billion, which is apparently based on little more than someone hitting a few numbers on a calculator. But hey, it makes for a great headline, right?
Is Facebook worth $15-billion? Not in any real sense of the word. Yes, it’s true that Microsoft paid $240-million for 1.6 per cent of the company, which theoretically values the entire company at $15-billion. But the key word there is “theoretically.” There’s about as much chance of someone buying Facebook for $15-billion as there is of me flying to the moon. In real terms, Mark Zuckerberg is worth something functionally equivalent to zero. I’d love to see him walk into a bank with a copy of the Forbes magazine list and try to get a loan for a couple of hundred million or so.
Om Malik posted recently on something I’ve been thinking about a lot: namely, the tension between one-size-fits-all social networks such as Facebook and a more personalized approach using blogs and tools such as Moveable Type and WordPress, both of which have been adding more social features (including WP’s purchase of Buddypress). Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital also posted on this topic, and said that an interest in more social blogging tools is why he invested in Tumblr, and as Om points out, Chris Messina and a group of other developers have also been working on a broader standard for such things through what they are calling the “DiSo” or distributed social project.
Blogging isn’t for everyone, obviously. There will always be those who prefer to use Facebook-style networks — or even Marc Andreessen’s Ning.com — because of their simplicity, and hopefully those networks will be able to “federate” or share information with blogs and blog-based social networks, using OpenID or some other similar standard. For those who want more control over their online data and destiny, however (a group I would like to think is increasing), I think blogs and blog-based tools are the best route, and could be a lot more flexible than any other option given the plug-in friendly nature of WordPress.