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Posted at 4:02 PM ET, 12/ 6/2010

Why Facebook matters

By Ezra Klein

In the post about whether Mark Zuckerberg is the world's more important twentysomething, the comments feature some good disagreement about whether Facebook really matters, or whether it'll be gone in 10 years, hopefully replaced by something that holds fewer embarrassing pictures from Gen-Y's college years. I'm going with "really matters." In his piece on Silicon Valley, Devin Friedman interviews a young tech entrepreneur who did a nice job explaining why:

"The big change, the big shift in the internet that's happened in the past three or four years, is the shift towards social being the most important thing," Angus says. "So now increasingly you discover content or care about content in the context of your friends. Up until now, Google's PageRank has been the dominant way that content gets sorted, ordered, and found on the internet. And the threat from Facebook is to say, 'wait, we're going to reorder the whole internet, all the content out there. And instead of it being based around some algorithm that a search engine says is important, we're going to base it around who you are, who your friends are, and what those people are interested in."

There are lots of factual questions that can't be answered through social search. I don't care what my friends think about the temperature of Jupiter's surface. But there are lots of questions -- and thus lots of searches, and lots of money -- where what your friends think, and the sites they visit and like, might matter a lot. "What digital camera should I buy?" for instance. Or, "Where's the most authentic Pho in the D.C. area?" And of course there are the questions we don't specifically ask, but that we nevertheless answer, by heading over to Facebook and seeing what our friends are linking to or talking about. That question is probably best expressed as, "What should I look at on the Internet right now?" and it's an important one.

The promise of social networks going forward is less about community and more about the ways large and disparate communities order information and drive attention. No one really knows how far they can go on either score, but I think it's safe to say that they might go a lot further than we'd have guessed three years ago. And Zuckerberg has done more than anyone else to push them there, though it's of course an open question whether some kid who just dropped out of college will unexpectedly snatch the industry away from him in the next few years.

By Ezra Klein  | December 6, 2010; 4:02 PM ET
 
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Comments

I am pretty sure the creep-out factor is a lot greater than the value derived from knowing what kind of flat screen TV your friends bought from what retailer.

If you remember Facebook Beacon, I believe that was the goal. Facebook Places will replace a lot of the functionality Beacon attempted to have (knowing where your friends shop will be easy with Places!)

How many people will realize how intrusive this service is and opt-out altogether?

Posted by: will12 | December 6, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I accept the argument, but that doesn't stop me deploring the development.

Until about ten years ago, you had to know where to go for the best camera, and that meant being on the inside of some obnoxious clique. For a short while, the internet and its algorithms set us free from the brown-nosers and ass-lickers.

Now the cliques are regrouping and extending their tentacles again. No doubt it was inevitable, but I, at least, would like to pause for a moment to think about what might have been.

Posted by: vagueofgodalming | December 6, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

The inference from "social really matters" to "Facebook really matters" is questionable. It could be that what they offer proprietarily now will in 5 years be just a utility, and thinking "Facebook" when you think "social" will be like thinking "Hotmail" when you think "email".

Posted by: MPM1 | December 6, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

will12, the cranks and paranoids will opt out, as they do for all new technology. Most everyone else will eventually have grown up with an expectation that they live most of their lives in public, and they'll be happy to do so.

Posted by: MosBen | December 6, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

The most important part of this post is the question of what is the best pho restaurant in the DC area...Pho 75 in Falls Church is the answer. There is a Facebook fan page.

Posted by: mattnmiross | December 6, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

I guess it's generational, so I'll concede my views on the subject are somewhat hoary. So just let me start with the following premise, which clearly applies only to myself: the majority of content I seek on the Internet is not stuff the majority (or even minority) of my Facebook friends have information about (say, the exact attribution of a 17th-century German etching, or whether a particular pair of cute shoes I saw comes in my width). If someone did have special expertise in one of these areas, I would not feel compelled to put the query to the entire community. I'll google. It's way faster and more accurate, though the responses wouldn't be as caustic and witty. Being of advanced age and having lived in many places over the years, my Facebook contacts are also spread around the country, and in other countries: this makes asking about questions like the best local pho useless. I guess I'd go to Chowhound or another local foodie posting site to find out. This kind of question occupies a relatively minor role in my life.

Most curious to me, though, is the notion of a social network as an organic body. One operates one's life in a lot of different registers: professional, social, familial, interest-group--spanning many age groups and social strata. All the people I know in these contexts may be on my Facebook friends list, but they don't know each other, and what I would say to one set I might not want to say to another. I would never invite them all to the same dinner party. Facebook has no means by which to differentiate these subnetworks (slap me if I'm wrong), and therein lies its problem for me, and I suspect for many others who have culled a very diverse set of contacts over the years: it simply becomes useless as a general communication tool for us.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | December 6, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

MosBen, between Google and Amazon (or Amazon and public records), along with tracking cookies, there is more than enough information to already know most everything about you.

Amazon and Google don't use this information, or store it intelligently enough, to inform your buying decisions.

By the time we live in a time where most everyone grew up with the expectation that there is zero privacy, and companies simply use your personal habits to advertise to you in very personal ways, facebook will be to social networking as hotmail is to email.

Posted by: will12 | December 6, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I think we need to remember that social networking, particularly Facebook, gives us *consensus* information, which is not the same as truth. And, it's not the same as fact.

In addition, consensus information is particularly vulnerable to personal biases and susceptible to corruption.

Consensus isn't fact. Just because the majority "like" or do something doesn't make it good policy.

Posted by: stella12 | December 8, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

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