Monday, August 6, 2007

Facebook, BusinessWeek, and "old people"

When a link to BusinessWeek's "Fogeys Flock to Facebook" article popped up in my GMail Web Clips, I immediately thought, "Great! Big-time press picked up on a conversation started last week by some really smart bloggers I like."

To wit (small link roundup copied shamelessly from Liz Ditz):
* Freydblog: elder hate groups on facebook
* Ronni Bennett: Facebook=Elder Hatebook and Facebook/Hatebook Responses
* Karoli: Facebook's Ugly Underbelly
* Shelley Powers: The Ugly Face of Facebook

There are plenty of good comments and links to other blog posts within the links listed above. I'll summarize the issue, but urge you to take a gander for yourself (or see the post by Grace Davis) if you're at all interested in this: there are a considerable number of Facebook groups with names like "Asking old people for a quarter then throwing it in there [sic] face..hahaha!" and "I Hate Old People" and "I don't wanna be Facebook friends with senior citizens!" and so on and so forth. In some instances and to some of these Facebookians, "senior citizens" seems to mean "people over 30," which of course hits a little too close to home. But that's not the point. The main point was about turning hate and rage toward the older set, wondering where it comes from, and more importantly wondering why it even exists given Facebook's anti-hate terms of service.

However, the [big] question discussed above is not at all the subject of the BusinessWeek article. Instead, we have this:
Lately, an influx of older users—professionals their 30s and 40s, many in high-tech—is changing the face of Facebook. Among Silicon Valley executives, journalists, and publicists, Facebook has become the place to see and be seen. And it's not just tech. Consulting company Ernst & Young's Facebook network boasts 16,000 members, Citigroup's (C) claims nearly 8,500.

Factor in plans by Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook's biggest business partner, to help turn the site into a tool for making professional connections, and the Palo Alto (Calif.) Internet company could be on the cusp of expanding its already impressive advertising roster, increasing its value as a buyout target or initial public offering candidate, and challenging professional-networking site LinkedIn as the go-to nexus for recruiters and investors.
The article goes on to provide plenty of good numbers regarding the profiles of new users, and basically asks what Facebook brings to the table for "the long-in-the-tooth crowd."

As a Facebook user [You can friend me if you want using my first name underscore my last name at], and as someone "long-in-the-tooth" relative to my students, I can say that Facebook already brings plenty to the table for me. I use it as an address book, a may to make connections, and a way to keep up with people I care about. I don't have eighty-seven million friends—that would defeat the purpose. Facebook isn't MySpace. [Insert entirely different ongoing discussion and just go over to danah boyd's blog and read her works-in-progress or browse her bibliographies.]

Back to the article. Numbers blah blah, advertisers blah blah, third-party app development blah blah, market value billions blah blah.

And one bland sentence about what I hoped the article was about:
Some college-age kids see the influx of users old enough to be their parents as an affront.
The information contained within the BusinessWeek article shows there's something to the connection between Facebook, "long-in-the-tooth" users, revenue, and ultimate market value. Given that, it would behoove Facebook to visit the question posed by the esteemed bloggers linked to at the beginning of this post: what's up with the hate? Successful online communities have community managers; perhaps Facebook should find a few among the 33 million people hanging out poking each other online.