I gave in and joined Facebook a few months ago. As with most other social networking tools, I had been avoiding it. It seems that with most new technologies, once I get in and learn how it works, I wonder how I ever lived without it (blogging being the prime example of this). I am glad I never joined MySpace, but while I appreciate some things about Facebook and generally support it, I do have a few issues with it. I don't know if I could say that it's something I couldn't live without.
To start off my experiment, when I joined, I decided I wouldn't invite anyone to be my friend. Now, I actually did invite two people, but these were people who had previously invited me before I joined, so in effect I was just accepting their previous invitations. I'm not 100% sure how the friend recommender works, but I may have also invited someone to be my friend after an existing friend recommended them to me. What I've ended up with, after little or no inviting of my own, is a mass of family members, employees, former coworkers, former roommates, high school friends, a high school barely acquaintance, PhD classmates, professors, old neighbors, junior high friends, people I've served in Scouting with, and people that go to the same church as I do.
There are people from almost every phase of my life all lumped together, and that's where it starts getting strange. I've ignored a few people whose updates I don't care to see. I've deleted a comment or two of people who don't think before they post on something I've shared. But for the most part, all these people who have never met each other and have no connection other than at some point they met me, are having this mass, public, unfettered conversation with me and showing each other pictures they have of me from a long time ago. I don't necessarily have anything to hide, but in real life I'm not going to invite a couple of my employees over to my house to hang out with me and a couple people I knew when I lived in New Jersey 20 years ago, yet that's what's virtually happening. I'd like to see some of my friends from New Jersey again. I'd have nothing against having a barbecue for my employees at my house (we'll see if any of them are reading this and take me up on it). I just wouldn't do them both at the same time. There's something strange about it.
A possible way to work around this would be to allow the user to put their friends in different groups so only people within the same group can see each other's conversations. I don't know, but there has to be a better way.
The thing I do like about Facebook is the open platform that it is. It can be extended to be anything you want it to be. The groups are obvious, as a way to communicate with large numbers of people quickly without having to be their friends. The applications are where it really gets good. Well, the potential is there anyway. I don't feel a need to fill out every 'what X are you?' quiz out there, and Mafia Wars appears to be a colossal waste of time (not as much as World of Warcraft of course). It's just this limitless platform that anyone can write a program for and throw it out to the world to share. We've obviously had that open platform for awhile called the internet, but now the social component is automated.
I asked some students in one of the classes I teach what they would think of having a Facebook group for our class. At first they thought it would be kind of weird but then admitted they would keep up on what was happening in the class better, since they would be in there all the time. However, when I asked some of the non-traditional students (read older, less tech-savvy) in another class of mine, they basically replied that there would be no way they would set up a Facebook account, even if that was where we were 'holding' class. CourseFeed is one app that has potential in this area. I need to set it up and try it out.
So I have mixed feelings when it comes to Facebook. It makes sense. I can see the good in it. Like anything else in life, there's waste in it. I look forward to seeing if some killer app shows up for it. Perhaps the next UI redesign will be much more successful than the last one and it will actually become easier for more people to use instead of more difficult so they can reach a new audience. Right now, I'm just watching and waiting.