Facing Up to Facebook

My friend Brad King, a journalism professor at Ball State University, makes fun of me for being such a Web and gadget geek while at the same time shunning social networking tools like Facebook. He’s got a point. I’ve written a lot about Facebook, MySpace, and their predecessors, but I’ve never wholeheartedly joined in, the way I have with most of the other digital media technologies that are the loose theme of this column. I guess I never quite saw the point. Also, though it’s probably a sign that I’m growing prematurely crotchety, I keep telling myself that that social networking is a fad, like some fashionable night club that will empty out as soon as something new opens up down the street.

Well, Facebook may still be a fad, but with 300 million users and growing, it’s a remarkably enduring one. It’s probably time for me to get used to it. On top of that, I’ve had some experiences over the last couple of weeks that have started to change my attitude about the site.

SunflowerIt started with my iPhone. Two weeks ago, as you might remember, I wrote a column about “The Best Camera.” It’s an iPhone app created by Seattle photographer Chase Jarvis as part of a cross-media campaign promoting his message that “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” The app lets you apply some intriguing digital effects to the photos you snap with the iPhone’s built-in camera. It also lets you upload your processed images directly to Facebook, where every new shot will show up on your Wall and in your friends’ news feeds.

I’ve sent a few of my Best Camera shots to my Facebook photo albums, and a truly surprising thing has happened. People have been commenting on the photos. Not a huge crowd of people, but enough to make me realize that there are Facebook users who actually pay attention to the new stuff they see every day, and that some of them care enough to leave feedback.

RhodyI don’t mean to sound naive—I know that posting and reading updates and commenting on other people’s updates are the main order of business at Facebook. The wake-up call for me was the realization that Facebook has now become what Flickr was originally supposed to be.

I’ve been a Flickr user since ancient times—back before it was part of Yahoo, when it was a funky little startup based in Vancouver and was mainly a place where people could comment on each other’s photos by decorating them with little thought-balloon captions. I’ve got thousands of photos there, and it’s going to remain my default online photo storage location. But nobody ever comments on my photos at Flickr anymore. At Facebook, by contrast, I can upload a camera-phone shot and get five comments within an hour.

What’s up with that? I thought at first that the sheer volume of photos at Flickr might be one explanation. There are so many new ones every day that my shots might just be getting lost in the crowd. But from what I’ve read, the world’s largest photo-sharing site these days is … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “Facing Up to Facebook”

  1. Wade, I don’t look so much for creativity in my friends’ Facebook usage as I do quality. Like you, my main Facebook time is spent on my home page wall, scanning my friends’ updates. I value the people who say things I want to know, and blend the professional and the personal. (We all know the guy who does nothing but self-promote, and the gal who shares endless inane surveys and trivia.) So on that “signal to noise” ratio, I value David Cancel (Compete co-founder and former CTO). David always passes along interesting startup information and also gently paints a lovely picture of his personal interests. He’s well-informed, thoughtful, and humble–as depicted by his Facebook posts. (And I only met him once so I really do form my impressions of him from Facebook.) He’s in Boston.

    In your business, check out Rob Walker’s “Consumed” fan page. He makes excellent use of FB to preview his upcoming NYT columns, get input on subjects he’s researching, and stimulate dialogue on the things he covers (design, marketing, brands, and cultural anthropology). His is one of the few fan pages I visit daily, to check in on the conversation.