Facebook: So Far A Successful Formula for User-Centered Internet Community

December 7, 2008

It’s Final Essay time!

From my concluding section:

The Facebook social utility has a rich history and a promising future. From its origins in Harvard’s Kirkland residential hall, to its expansion to high school students and working professionals, to its competition for overseas users, Facebook has sought to remain true to its mission statement: “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life…”

Facebook has been rivaled since its inception by MySpace, which allows users more creative control over the design elements of their profiles.  However, Facebook, unlike MySpace, has remained independently-owned and operated, and has exercised great creativity in developing hundreds of Applications, in close consultation with users, which all tend to engage the imagination while promoting enjoyable socialization and play.

In my essay I try to identify which specific elements have made Facebook the world’s most successful social utility, and also explore the bumps and challenges it has faced along the way.

I describe some distinguishing differences from MySpace, including a review of blogger danah boyd’s sociological theory that the one site appeals to “hegemonic” (powerful) youth while the other appeals to “subaltern” (disenfranchised) youth.

I explored these issues by intensively researching the histories of both websites, though particularly of Facebook, as recounted in blogs, mainstream news websites both from the U.S. and abroad, and academic papers.

It is my conclusion, particularly in light of the empirical surveys conducted by Jeff Ginger of UIUC in 2006 and 2007, that one indispensable ingredient in Facebook’s formula for success has been its basis in pre-existing real-life networks such as universities and workplaces.

One problem I outline is the possibility that the site will violate users’ privacy through ad programs or promote comparisons of physical appearance that are demeaning, activating a kind of Social Darwinism that would negate Facebook’s mission statement of openness and sharing.  I suggest that one solution is for Mark Zuckerberg and company to continue to heed user feedback, especially as presented in ad hoc Facebook Groups created by users.

I hope you enjoy!