Friday, 2 December 2011

Like This! David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect

I pounded this out rather quickly, but because the book was old (published last year), I wasn't sure if they would use it. ...I do sound a bit "optimistic" about Facebook in the review, don't I?

'The Facebook Effect'
I know about Facebook's attitudes towards user data privacy, and how they slip some design tweaks under our noses and slap us in the face with others - not to mention the annoyances posed by other Facebook users. How many have abandoned SS Zuckerberg because of these? Not enough, it seems, as its user count continues to grow.

Let no one deny that Facebook is big now - and set to get bigger. Rumours of Facebook getting listed on the stock exchange next year has gotten investors excited; some really optimistic estimates say the company could be worth up to US$100 billion.

On the user front, the character limit on FB posts jumped from 500 to a little over 60,000 in just four months. did some math and gleefully concluded that one could share a whole novel in just nine posts, a boon to long-winded oversharing emo types everywhere - and a possible threat to blogging platforms. Somebody please tell me this is a hoax.

Watching the development of a juggernaut like Facebook must feel like watching the progress of a monster hurricane. One can't help but be fascinated and frightened at the same time. I wonder if this was how David Kirkpatrick felt as he did his research.

Like this!
This year's political upheavals, like the Arab Spring, that used social networking so effectively, prompts our reviewer to dig up and re-read a book published last year. He reckons it should be required reading for anyone who has a Facebook account.

first published in The Star, 02 December 2011

AS a Facebook user, I've wondered about the oodles of pages with titles that start with "One Million". Why this magic number?

If David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, can be believed, the number's story began in Columbia, South America, in 2008. Ticked off at a certain paramilitary group, Oscar Morales created the Facebook page, "One Million Voices Against FARC". The page morphed into a movement that eventually pushed an estimated 10 million demonstrators against FARC, a leftwing rebel group, onto Columbia's streets. FARC has since seen some of its greatest setbacks, including the rescue of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt after six years as a FARC hostage and, recently, the death of one of its leaders, Guillermo León Sáenz, aka Alfonso Cano.

The Facebook-spurred demos against FARC is used with great effect by Kirkpatrick to showcase the social network's ability to hook up and unite like-minded people in championing a particular cause. But The Facebook Effect does not just shed light on the mechanics of the social network in general. It's a peek under the hood and a look at the history of Facebook, now considered to be the social network.

A lot of the background information – warts and all – on the rise and rise of Facebook can be found, appropriately enough, online. However, Kirkpatrick, former senior editor for tech and the Internet at Fortune magazine, has dug a bit deeper and put it all together into what I'd consider to be the only book to read about the history of Facebook, its impact on the world, and where it might be headed in the future.

As such, it's meant to be mined by tech enthusiasts, students and anyone looking for offline sources on Facebook. Not for lazy Saturday afternoons in a rattan chair with a cocktail in hand – though I'm sure there are types out there who will feel differently.

To me, it reads like a modern-day fairy tale. I mean, who'd believe that a vanity platform for rating the "hotness" of Harvard students would one day evolve into something that can mobilise regime-toppling movements (read: Arab Spring).

One could say that Facebook is merely the latest front-end interface for a social network concept, ie, the Internet. We've used real-time chat programmes (ICQ, Orkut, Yahoo!Messenger and GChat), online journals (Wordpress, Blogger, Livejournal) and Facebook's predecessors (MySpace and Friendster) before. To me, the book suggests that none of the above have come quite as close as Facebook to being the "face" of the Internet. And in a few decades, if Zuckerberg keeps getting it right, they might talk about him like that other tech icon.

In an interview about the book, Kirkpatrick suggests that part of Facebook's success can be attributed to the Google-like bare-bones interface that also, "Kept the ads to the bare minimum, and what I think that did is, not only made it look cool and clean, it made people feel that, it could be for anyone and everyone. So it didn't have the feeling of just being for kids, it was so neutral that, anyone felt that they can use it and that has been the key to its growth."

Kirkpatrick has done a great job with The Facebook Effect. However, I feel no book or research paper can adequately describe, explain or demystify the energy that is the collective goodwill or outrage contained in this gargantuan hive-mind of over 800 million Netizens and its effects on governments, businesses, and how we make friends.

The Facebook Effect
David Kirkpatrick
Virgin Books (2010)
374 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7535-2275-2


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