Is Facebook Anti Social?

Today’s guest post is from Anthony Nemelka, a long-time veteran of the social business technology scene and currently the CEO of Teleplace, Inc..

Whatever happened to Second Life?  I asked that question to a group of kids the other day and their response was somewhat unsurprising: “What is Second Life?”

Clearly, immersive 3D collaboration technology has failed to live up to the hype of some of its early advocates and visionaries. Reflecting some of those expectations, I recall a senior analyst at a well-known IT consulting firm once telling me he was certain that Second Life would beat out Facebook as the preferred platform for Web-based social interaction among consumers. That prediction was made in 2007, and he was just one of many who thought consumers would prefer 3D gaming environments over text and pictures when interacting with their friends over the Web. Online multi-user gaming was exploding at the time, and why wouldn’t users prefer a UI that more closely simulates the real world?

By the end of 2010, that analyst admitted he had been completely wrong. “In the end,” he said, “text and pictures won.”

But I think we should stop using war analogies when it comes to describing the business of technology. Winning and losing imply permanence. When it comes to high tech, there is no permanence. Just ask Microsoft and Apple.

Technology adoption is much better understood—and predicted — in the context of how it’s being used. When it comes to immersive technology, online gaming is a great example. I recently observed that same group of kids playing a game with each other over the Internet using Xbox Live. These kids had never actually met in person. They lived thousands of miles apart. But the interaction between them was little different from what would have taken place had they been playing in their own backyard. It was highly interactive. There was a lot of shouting, with a few gestures thrown in for good measure. It was structured yet unpredictable. It demanded tremendous focus. The strengths and weaknesses of each of the players were readily apparent. Peer pressure was rampant. There was a clear pecking order, and alliances ended up separating the winners from the losers. In the end, it was shared experience—not an individual one — and that’s what made it feel highly social even though the users were thousands of miles apart.

What I observed that day was far different from how those same kids interact on Facebook. Though we call Facebook a social network, social networking is not a good contextual description of how it’s used. Facebook is more like a hole in the fence of your backyard allowing you or your neighbor to peek in on each other from time to time. It’s certainly not about shared experiences at all. At its core, the Facebook experience is a clever amalgamation of voyeurism and narcissism. It’s either all about me or it’s about what I’m going to discover about you. In the old days they called that anti-social. Now we call it being social? Really??

Of course, neither narcissism nor voyeurism is encouraged at work, and that may be why the concept of “Facebook for the enterprise” has never really taken off. CEOs understand the concept of Facebook, but they struggle to see how it’s appropriate in the context of work.

Group interaction in the context of work has a lot more in common with what I observed in those kids playing Xbox Live than it does with Facebook. Work-based collaboration is highly interactive. It often involves a lot of talking and gesturing. It’s structured yet unpredictable at times. It demands focus. The strengths and weaknesses of other people are readily apparent. Peer pressure is rampant, and there’s always a pecking order—both formal and informal. Alliances often separate the winners from the losers. And in the end, it’s a shared experience and a shared outcome, not an individual one.

Though I’m a veteran of the social business software market, I’m convinced now more than ever that the asynchronous collaboration technologies most often associated with social business software are falling short of what’s needed for enterprise collaboration. The technologies are simply inappropriate for the context. Workers need technology that more closely replicates and integrates with how they interact in person. In the end, the technologies best suited for that will likely have much more in common with Xbox Live than with Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Is Facebook Anti Social?”

  1. Hi Esteban,
    You pose an interesting question about Facebook. My perspective is that the immersive online 3D gaming examples are intense and require engagement that lasts longer than a minute or two(usually to the exclusion of anything else). By contrast, Facebook has two “advantages” to the layman:
    1. It’s okay to be superficial – swoop in for a minute, comment on the cute baby photos and tell people what you think about something, then close it and move on to something else. The little games like Farmville can be played superficially, too and it’s perfectly fine.
    2. Facebook is all about you. You post the update, you make the comment, you put your photo album out there. It’s all your content and the people who care about you get to receive it all. If they don’t care about you, they either ignore the update or they unfriend you.
    So, I suppose Facebook could be called antisocial. But it might be more accurate to be called “self-centered” or “narcissistic.” Just a thought…

    JB

  2. This is a “Social Individualistic” platform… in business we need “Social Collectivism” platforms… :-))

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