The Social Network

February 27, 2012

“Daddy, it really is time you used Facebook,” announced my daughter Georgie a few months ago. “I am off to university in England and we can stay in touch better.” I had put off the whole Facebook thing for many years, but a couple of aspects had started to fascinate me.

I have been using LinkedIn, a business focused network site, for several years, and found it to be useful in keeping me up-to-date with my professional interests. I have also renewed contact with people I used to work and study with, and some work opportunities have certainly come to me via LinkedIn connections.

Facebook was set up with a very different concept from LinkedIn, it was to be a way for friends to stay in touch. It was launched in 2004 and now has over 845mn active users.

Facebook allows anyone who declares themselves to be over 13 years of age to register. The website generated a revenue of US$3.7bn in 2011, largely from advertising, making it a very valuable company.

Those who have seen the film The Social Network will know of the battles between Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow Facebook pioneers at Harvard, who essentially were in a dispute over the rights to the wealth generated by the company.

Facebook plans to go public, and with a possible value of US$100bn, Zuckerberg will be worth US$28bn and many hundreds of his employees will become millionaires. Facebook will be worth more than Boeing, the biggest aircraft maker in the world.

I have 153 friends on my Facebook site, around the average number. I joined up, created my page, sent a request to my children to be their friend, and it snowballed. The first few friends tumbled into my inbox quickly, and within a day or two, I was in touch with some long lost buddies. It was all very exciting. 

It was my 55th birthday last week and I received a lot of lovely messages wishing me a happy day. Some of my friends post many links, articles, comments and the like on their Timeline.

Some put lots of pictures on their site. Some others do very little. Facebook tells each user when friends are also on the site, allowing instant messaging, which is fun.

So what really is the point of Facebook? It is hugely popular and even with reports of subscribers leaving the site, it continues to allow people to stay in touch, share ideas and to spread the latest news.

Businesses have turned to Facebook as a way of creating a cost-effective public face to their activities, and I hear reports that this can successfully bring in new opportunities. I have not seen this for myself yet, but plan to try to use Facebook to promote our businesses.

I am concerned with privacy issues and I hope Facebook continues with efforts to reduce exploitation of the young. Facebook must also do all it can to eradicate any illegal activity on the site.

Every service offered by the site is designed to gather information about users’ tastes and preferences, so that advertising can be targeted and made more effective. This must be kept in balance to avoid the 'hard sell.'

Fifty years ago, in the 1960s, when I was growing up, I either saw my friends and family or called them up using the old black bakelite telephone. Now, we can all reach out instantly, using social networks, through the Worldwide Web, to those we know, wherever they may be. What a fantastic achievement this is. I await the next developments in the art of human communication with fascination.


Nick lives and works in Muscat and the views expressed in this column are entirely his own