You would think that social networking is a brand new thing.
The phrase, social networking, is new, but maybe not the concept. But if you say the phrase out loud, and you may want to do so right now, it makes you feel good, almost like you know more than you’re supposed to know.
It is also the phrase most used to describe the Facebook phenomenon. A recent article reported that Facebook is the number one social network website in the world. In just a span of twelve months, Facebook added 75 million unique monthly visitors (from 40 million in April, 2007, to 115 million in April, 2008). Of those 75 million unique visitors, 62 million were from places other than the United States of America.
MySpace, in the same time span, has not grown enough to even chart it’s progress.
Facebook began as a toy for college students, almost a tongue-in-cheek graduation from MySpace. But, as you may know dear reader, your friend list, if you are on Facebook, includes people outside of that demographic. It’s rate of growth has outpaced other social networking sites.
And the reasons for its success are almost immediate. If you have your own Facebook account, you will notice a few things. One, you were probably asked to join a network, which, according to Facebook, most people do. Another, is that you are asked a slate of questions about yourself, and you almost feel compelled to answer them accordingly.
In it’s purest form, Facebook is almost about vanity. You are telling your own private world, in online terms, what you value, who you like, and even your current mood. And you are given complete control. No one in the real world can force anything here.
Because, as I’ve written before, millions of lives are now lived on computer screens.
I have a theory.
Facebook has made relationships cool again. We have taken a phrase, social networking, and made it sound almost technological, and very much inventive, though, at its core, social networking is just a new way to describe relationships. And Facebook has given us a place to invest in relationships.
And I guess we need that. The cultural swing of America has gone from small towns to a scattering of friends across this continent, and has placed us in isolated areas, away from family, and away from longtime friends. The Internet was, for a time, the savior of relationships, with email being the hottest ticket in town. But that became cumbersome. So cell phones became the rage. But rates were too high. So text messaging followed next in this evolutionary tale. But we wanted to say more. So MySpace happened. But MySpace is a public page, and maybe we don’t want everyone to see what we have to say, and the need for control developed. So there was a need, and the development of Facebook filled that need. But it also provided competition for MySpace among those who use each one. One psychologist even cited research that both users MySpace and Facebook could be seen through socio-economic lenses.
So even relationships, lived online, are now divided among class lines. Interesting, isn’t it?
In the end, though, Facebook offered privacy, and controlled access. And most people seem to like that. So Facebook is the student who has become the teacher.
But what holds Facebook together, and makes it work so well, is the accountability that ensures that these relationships survive.
The information in any given profile is checked every time new access is granted to your profile by adding these friends. And, in turn, whenever you are given access to someones profile, by the unique privilege of being their friend, you can check their information. And you will ask about something that doesn’t play well. And you will be asked about something that someone else disputes. Facebook would not be the most dominant social networking site in the world if accountability wasn’t so accessible, or so necessary. It is what makes any relationship work.
It would seem, though the lens of technology, that humanity craves a chain of people, where we find ourselves connected somewhere.
But, of course, it isn’t the first to offer such a place.
The greatest social networking site on the planet is in the lobby of any church. Try it this Sunday and see.