Old people don’t get Facebook

(Warning: This will be a bit of a rant.)

Old people don’t get Facebook. I’m not talking about the average not-so-tech savvy older relative you may have, but older folks in the tech industry itself.

Today, Matt Assay missed the point.

The primary problem with Facebook is not applications. The primary problem with Facebook is utility. When was the last time that Facebook enabled much of anything useful in your life?… Facebook’s biggest opportunity is to enable real communication between real friends.

Who do you talk to on Facebook, Matt? The whole reason Facebook captured my interested in the first place, is precisely that it “enables real communication between real friends.” Unlike MySpace and other social networks that were popular at the time, Facebook was not about creating virtual communities, but adding a virtual component to real communities, to college and university communities.

Just because your community isn’t on Facebook doesn’t mean that Facebook isn’t about real connections. It’s precisely because you don’t have any real friends on Facebook that its utilities aren’t very useful to you.

Rob Hyndman missed the point a few months back too, complaining that Facebook is boring. Of course it’s boring if you don’t have any real friends using the service!

When I post something to Facebook, why isn’t Facebook analyzing that content, and drawing inferences about me, my interests and people who might share them? Right now a posted item sits on my Facebook page like lump of coal. Great – I put it there to make it useful to someone else – but again, why isn’t Facebook using that information to do something useful for me?

That’s exactly what Facebook does for me! I’ve had entire debates and discussions spin off of blog posts I import into my Facebook notes, or my Facebook Posted Items. That’s because my friends and my communities are on Facebook and it shows up in their news feeds. That’s what the news feed is.

People I know — my age — are using Facebook more, not less. Myself included. Because our generation is on Facebook. It began as a utility for connecting real friends, became popular as a utility for connecting real friends and still is a utility for connecting real friends, but only if you have real friends on Facebook!

It seems to me like the older tech crowd came late to the Facebook party (hey, it was only open to college and high school students are first), wanted to try out the latest cool thing in 2007, and now think that its time has passed simply because their interest and activity on it in the first place was largely experimental and not grounded in a real community presence.

This is a problem that Facebook faces with respect to its relevance to an older population. It’s not a problem for those who start using Facebook in high school or university. That’s always been Facebook’s strongest demographic, and it’s stronger now, not weaker.

Just because your tech friends are on Twitter now doesn’t mean that Facebook has lost it’s stronghold on the younger generation! The appropriate question, I think, is whether Facebook can hold on to its users as they graduate from college. I think that’s more than likely, since it’s a great way to stay in touch with your real friends when they’re all using the service already.

Just because your middle-aged friends aren’t using the service doesn’t mean that it’s not useful to those whose communities live on Facebook! Facebook hasn’t become less useful, it’s just failed to be useful for a specific demographic — the middle-aged tech crowd.

That’s what Twitter is for.


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