Sunday, February 1, 2009

Facebook and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Facebook wasn't the first popular social networking site. And it's certainly not the only one, as other sites jump on the social networking bandwagon. But FB has risen to the top of them all. To explain why would take another blog entry, or maybe even a book. For now, it's enough to say that the creators of FB did it right.

Each blog has a charter, a purpose, a raison d'ĂȘtre. MySpace trumpets itself (rightfully so) as a publicity vehicle for indie bands and indie musicians. Here's what FB has to say about itself: "Facebook gives people the power to share and makes the world more open and connected. Millions of people use Facebook everyday to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet."

That really is FB's goal and purpose. But there's something else happening in FB, something that fits into their charter, but was probably neither predicted nor intended by FB's creators.

People who moved clear across the continent after high school or college are reconnecting with their friends and their classmates from years ago. Friends who used to be nothing more than fond (and fading) memories are now a part of people's daily life again. Geographically dispersed families are finding FB to be a handy way to keep in instant touch with their relatives, instead of relying on letters, email and the telephone chain. FB allows you to find out instantly what your crazy uncle or your beloved niece is doing, and to congratulate them about it immediately, rather than waiting for the annual Christmas letter.

There's no need to wait for reunions anymore, because FB is the reunion. It's a giant class reunion, a giant family reunion, and a tender reunion for old friends who think about each other every day. even if they haven't gotten together for years.

The FB goal statement quoted above makes it clear that FB's creators intended it to be a way to keep the present from becoming the past. However, I don't think they expected that FB would allow users to reach way back into the past and pull it forward, into the present. That's an unintended consequence of FB.

Along with my childhood friends, my former students, my extended family and all of the other friends I have joyfully reunited with, I offer my thanks to the creators of Facebook. They will never know the extent of the good that they have done in the world.