Facebook is the most popular social network in the world and has a massive user base capable of connecting a planet. There are more than 300 million members and growth is showing little sign of slowing. To date, its effect is mostly benign and often beneficial. It allows people across the world to get a window in other people’s lives. It re-opens old and stalled friendships. Though it has more than five percent of the world’s population in it, it hasn’t caused any wars, terrorism, or large scale hatred. There are hate groups on Facebook, but these can be easily named and shamed or simply shunned. Despite the media stink about linking every nastiness with Facebook, there is no evidence to suggest Facebook is evil.
But Facebook is in danger of becoming a massive time sink. Facebook is changing the way we deal with the world because it is a one-stop shop for multiple communication needs. It has email, instant messaging, twitter-like status updates with added banter, there are a limitless number of games, there are links to be shared, and photos to be posted and enjoyed. Fifteen minutes of the day is gone in a flash. No wonder employers hate it. Yet it caters for a crucial part of human existence: the need to know more about the world. If Facebook didn’t exist, people would still be on the phone or reading letters or playing games.
Steve Zuckerberg has already made a lot of money from Facebook. Aged just 25 he is a “youthful multi-millionaire” however most of his wealth is virtual and tied into the possible worth of Facebook in public stock options. When that happens the gloves will be off. The corrupting influence of power and money will likely turn Facebook into a grubby advertising pit.
So here’s my suggestion to Mr Zuckerberg. Instead of making gazillions out of it, why not give it away. Release it into the wild of the public domain. Let the users take it over and turn it into open source or wikify it. Let Facebook privacy finds its own equilibrium. Sack your army of lawyers and offer passports to the People’s Republic of Facebook. If that idea sounds too radical, then consider the alternatives. The desire to make serious money out it will eventually kill it. You may be gone on to other things by then and may not care but the destruction of Facebook will still be forever associated with you.
It remains a good idea to put the world on one network. That doesn’t mean everyone has to talk to everyone, but it does open up infinite possibilities. It will require a whole new universe of trust; it will redefine what it means to publish. It will stretch and pulsate our neural network without the nagging fear that ultimately its all about exploiting users to turn a buck. Facebook could yet be that network but only if Zuckerberg lets it run free.