The blogosphere is all aTwitter with the news, via a blog post from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, that the social-networking powerhouse has ratcheted up its user base to 150 million people. Whoa! Are those folks doing anything useful or just wasting their time?I think that's the eternal yin/yang debate about social nets. The glass-half-full argument goes something like: "Maybe I'm not doing anything obviously worthwhile just yet, but I'm networking and keeping in touch with people who might give me a job one day. Er, I mean, keeping in touch with my friends, with no ulterior motive. And also, maybe one day there'll be some really useful Facebook apps so I won't have to engage in cognitive dissonance when I check my page at work." (Hey, there already are some useful Facebook apps -- InformationWeek apps!)
The glass-empty folks say stuff like: "Can you believe people waste so much time on Facebook? What a load of nonsense." I got an earful of this line of thinking over the holidays when I got together with a bunch of my engineering-school buddies. One of them made that comment, and everyone around the table heartily agreed. (Me, I kept my mouth shut.) Of course, a key fact I'm leaving out is that these people are precisely not the demographic expected to use Facebook. (Since I graduated alongside my friends, let's just say they're north of 35 and leave it at that.)
As Zuckerberg's 150-million total makes apparent, far more users today do indeed "waste" their time on Facebook. Since social-media sites are poised to become daily online destinations for the remainder of the 21st century -- they already are -- the important questions aren't who, when, where, or why people are using Facebook, but how.
It's incumbent upon those of us intent on creating useful Facebook apps to provide worthwhile options, in the form of. . . decent, non-time-wasting Facebook apps. That's one of my big objectives during 2009.
Last year, I built five Facebook apps, but they were really simple. They pull headlines and blurbs off of RSS feeds for InformationWeek's news stories and blogs posts and enable users to get that stuff on their Facebook pages. Trivial, perhaps, but one of our apps -- the InformationWeek Weblog Update -- has been sampled by 13,000 users and has more than 500 folks who regularly check it. Which tells me that there's an apparent appetite for social nets as media destinations.
This year, I'd like to build more complex apps. However, as anyone who's surfed the Facebook directories can tell you, it's hard to come up with ideas that don't suck. So I'm throwing it open to you, dear readers, and asking you to leave a comment below with your suggestions for what Facebook apps you'd like to see from InformationWeek. You can also e-mail me directly at [email protected].
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.