The Social Web

The Social Web

In the past I have mentioned Facebook and related sites. Whenever I have talked about them, however, it has been in a technical capacity. I never really gave much thought to the why.

Very quickly, what could we say about Facebook on a technical note? Well, the site is– or, at the very least, appears– dead simple. Some user sticks some data in a web-based form. It is then stuck into a database for long-term storage. Later, another user wants said data so it is retrieved and displayed. Simple. There is not only nothing wrong with this but I always prefer that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. So why is Facebook so damn popular if it does not give us anything we did not already have?

The answer is that it does. It gives us something that is harder to measure: easy communication for everyone. Not just for the protocol engineers so speak Nerd, not just for the computer programmers (those handsome devils) who make software, but for everyone. Before the rise of Facebook long-distance communication was more geared towards one-on-one interaction. The telephone (later the cellular phone), e-mail, ect. These were all giant steps forwards but did not easily address “the crowd.” If you wanted to talk to several people on the phone you could need to make several phone calls. There is also a second issue with most communication methods: they happen in real-time. If I want to talk to someone on the phone they need to stop what they are doing to talk back. Real-time is a great goal for most projects but not always the best solution for all. I do not know you about you but my friends get grumpy when they need to, say, stop sleeping because I called them.

So here comes Facebook: A graffiti-tagged wall of whatever. Not only can you communicate with others but you can do it outside of normal business hours and not have the pesky are-they-available dilemmas. It is a mix between instant messaging, Internet forums, and three-way calling all in one. There are no new concepts here but great application of old ones. The why is the community. The why is the emotion.

OK, so I am late in getting my brain wrapped around this. Perhaps it is a serious short-coming of mine but now that someone got me started I am very interested.

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