Facebook’s future: It’s in your shorts

Just yesterday, a friend (that’s a lower-case, analog friend) told me how much he hates Facebook. He can’t believe how much time people spend there, he wishes he had never registered for it, and he resents the amount of attention it tries to demand from him.

With that said, he asked if I thought it would eventually fade away.

Social media is here to stay, I responded. While Facebook and Twitter may not always be the dominant portals, the notion of social networking that they represent will continue to evolve and embed itself into our communication – just as web browsing and e-mail have done.

Then this article, on Facebook’s acquisition of Friendfeed, crossed my desktop and my opinion evolved.

The most insidious aspect of Facebook is how it brings in new members. First, as I explained to my flesh-and-blood friend, every time someone sets up a new Facebook page, they get the opportunity to scour their own address book for potential Friends (digital, capital-F friends). And because Friends are the currency of Facebook — the more you have, the “wealthier” you are — most people accept this initial chance to let the social networking site into their personal data.

So Facebook searches your computer address book for people who are already registered with the site. I don’t know if it just looks for e-mail addresses or follows a more complex algorithm, but within seconds, it will identify every Facebook member you know and offer — with a single click — to ask them to Friend you. (It’s notable that Facebook has already created a legitimate verb in the word “friend”.)

Then Facebook makes a more extraordinary offer: It identifies everyone in your personal address book who isn’t registered at the site and offers — again, with one click — to let them know how much you’d like them to join Facebook with the purpose of becoming your online Friend.

Insidious and ingenious. For the new user, this is simply a shortcut to Facebook-style wealth — lots of Friends. For Facebook, this is the shortest route to ubiquity — which it could be argued has already been achieved.

So now, Facebook has acquired Friendfeed, which “enables you to discover and discuss the interesting stuff your friends find on the web.” This isn’t unique; Digg.com is better known and does essentially the same thing.

But here’s the key: Friendfeed lets you “Read and share however you want — from your email, your phone or even from Facebook. Publish your FriendFeed to your website or blog, or to services you already use, like Twitter.”

This isn’t unique to Friendfeed either. I’ve seen lists of social media sites that have 350 to 400+ sites listed, with new ones being entered daily. Try Googling “list of social media sites”. Most of them make it easy to publish on your blog, Facebook, Twitter and other leading sites.

What’s the point? Facebook is paying $50 million to buy a social media site that, as its primary function, collects more people — not just from the Web, but also from their phones.

This won’t surprise anyone who thinks strategically about social networking. But for anyone who wonders whether Facebook is going to fade away: It’s less likely every day.

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