March 06, 2010

For Many Families, Facebook Is The Real World Web

Facebook is huge in practically every way measurable. The site sports more than 400 million active users, and just passed Yahoo! for the 2nd most trafficked site on the Web, made even more impressive by the number of hours each active user on the site spends using the platform each month. The company's Facebook Connect product is setting itself up as a challenger to represent your identity online, and many anticipate the company taking on PayPal or other products for online transactions. But even more than the raw numbers, the impact Facebook has, from sharing, to members' gestures, to the act of friending and unfriending, cannot be overstated. For while many of us digerati get all atwitter about newer, shinier objects, the mainstream Web has made Facebook their central gathering place to talk with casual friends, family members, and even talk business. Now, activities online affect those offline, and offline events directly impact a response on Facebook.

Offline Impacts Online. Online Impacts Offline.

About a year ago, I said Facebook's success made it the social media prism and translator, by which all newer tools could be described. But as the site adds functionality and sheer mass, it's possible that could render many of its potential challengers irrelevant.

Even as I try service after service, or single-use products, those in my family who have made the Web less of a central point in their lives have taken to Facebook in a way unseen with any other product. While my family has generally been among the faster to adopt other platforms, like e-mail, or even blogging, Facebook has become the central point where messages are sent, photos are shared, updates are given, and offline relationships are mirrored. Now, rather than making phone calls to see how everyone is doing, it can be a lot easier to check one's Facebook status, read their Wall, and see what other friends of theirs are saying. And when we do meet face to face, we can reference what we've seen on Facebook, instead of starting with an empty slate.

Facebook Connect for All Platforms

As with most families, ours occasionally has bumps. Marriages show cracks, and siblings fight, just like any other unit. When one couple was rumored to be talking of splitting, it became even more official when the in-law unfriended all of the other's siblings and relatives, making a clean break. When friend requests came from the crazy aunt who had ridiculous political leanings, it was declined. And people internally squabble about why one sibling's photos get a ton of comments, but another's don't.

I have seen and heard many similar conversations in families everywhere. What seems to be happening, as Facebook becomes THE default social network, where people are expected to be connected, and always listening, is that other sites become utilities for specific functions. Google is used as a search utility. Yahoo! becomes a news site or finance hub. ESPN is for sports. But Facebook has become that go-to site that absorbs what many other sites used to. It has become the platform for sharing photos, the platform for messaging, the platform for casual games, and personal connections. Its continued growth and visibility reinforces this position, as over time, the Facebook hold outs join up and get connected.

I may prefer Google Buzz and FriendFeed and Twitter and SmugMug and all these other best-of-breed sites for their specific use cases, but thus far, I haven't been able to convert the family to converge with me there. Facebook is rapidly becoming the Web platform with external services feeding in, and it feeding out. It becomes the conduit, but also the destination.

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