But Facebook is also changing… once touted as the social networking site that would replace all other social networking sites, thanks to their innovative technology — embedded applications from third parties! — what are people doing now? Facebook’s timelines are too complex to follow (like Twitter). You need hours and hours to keep up with your timeline. Unless you’ve got a dream job with nothing to do (and I was shocked to see how many of my close friends actually do not do anything at all the whole day and just spend their time at work tweeting and sharing links on Facebook!), it’s impossible to keep up with everything! So what do people do on an information-saturated Facebook? They play games. More precisely, they play Farmville. Farmville is saving Facebook from becoming irrelevant. But it’s not exactly a “new” idea; Flash-based gaming is a few years old, and it has always been a successful business.
My question is only if Facebook will become irrelevant for “serious business” once the enterprise world discovers that people don’t read any links any more, they don’t watch ads… they just play Farmville. Very aggressively. And perhaps they will start buying more ads on Farmville instead. I wonder what that will do to Facebook’s income. As a platform to disseminate Flash-based games, Facebook couldn’t have worked better — but was that really its ultimate purpose? Or perhaps I ought to ask if it matters at all? If they can make a profit somewhere, they ought to survive, even if they rename the company “Gamebook”.
Perhaps my bias against all these social networking thingies is just rising to the surface. I sigh as I log in to Google Wave for the last time. I had such high expectations! I wanted a social networking technology that allowed me to get good information, filtered from hundreds of sources, and trustable. I don’t need gazillions of messages coming in from hundreds of services telling me to click on links to read blogs, to watch movies, or to play games. I have no time for them!
Instead, I just wish to talk to people. Not any people, but the kind of people that know what I like and that share common ideas and tastes with me. At some point in my life this used to be a favourite IRC channel; later, perhaps a forum; in some extreme cases, blogs with comments. Twitter and Plurk were fun when I had 20-30 “followers” whom I knew well. Now I get IncognitoJoe telling me how catching butterflies in Costa Rica is good for his health. How could that possibly even remotely interest me?
No, ironically, the best “social networking tool” I have right now is to log in to SL, jump in the middle of a conversation, and ask my friends about the news. Even the clumsy, limited, ugly, and unreliable Group IM Chat provides me with more information in half an hour than Facebook with a million messages with shared links and comments on links, and “likes” on comments to links…
So, well, back to virtual worlds, where people talk to people, and although spam exists and is growing, it “feels” manageable in some odd way. Here the question is, what kind of virtual world is good for me?
When you get so used to a hammer as a tool to hit on nails, everything will look like a nail, even a screw… and SL has that feeling. It’s hard to imagine a “different SL”, so it immediately becomes the frame of reference for everything. I’ve long since explained that its success comes from user-generated content, persistence, and visual contiguity. Getting all three is not easy, and most technological platforms drop at least one of the three. In general, from the users’ perspective, user-generated content seems to be the more interesting one. VastPark, Metaplace, Multiverse, Blue Mars, even IMVU to an extent, all put a strong focus on a certain degree of user-generated content.
User-generated content is a bliss and a nightmare. There are two extremes that are easy to implement. The first is where you simply upload content to it and don’t care what happens next. The virtual world platform simply becomes a repository for public domain content. All content is free; any content can be grabbed, tweaked, changed, replaced. Notions of “intellectual property” are irrelevant.