Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Facebook fads

After throwing sheep, poking each other and sending champagne or Tiffany jewelery to each other, Facebook users are now by travelling back in time to the age of slam books. Everyone is writing notes, such as "25 things about me", tagging their friends in those notes and spreading these memes around the site faster than influenza.

This is an interesting phenomenon from a couple of perspectives. First, it is a great example of spreading of ideas - how something in a network gets really quickly really big, after it first catches on and gets above a certain threshold. At first there were just a couple of my friends writing these notes, and that 25 questions -one was the first I paid attention to. And now there's practically nothing else in my news feed -- I've completely lost count of how many different "fill in your answers to this note, post it to your profile and tag all your friends" there are.

The other interesting thing is that not so long ago, and of course still, people used the various facebook apps to do these kinds of things. There are numerous applications where you'd fill in questionnaires and then the system automatically compared your answers with those of your friends'. You'd need to add the application first, though, and usually at some stage be exposed to advertising that would make money for FB and perhaps even the providers of these applications. But, not completely unlike the SMS, people have now taken a functionality of the system and adapted it to their needs - no middle men or special applications needed. All you need is the ability to a) post text on your profile, b) tag friends on it and c) get those results posted to the news feed.

So, this slam book phenomenon is an example of spreading of ideas in a network, people adapting technology for their communication and networking needs, and how it all is unpredictable in a familiar, almost predictable way.

Of course, just like global travel has increased the spread of viruses and diseases, this seemingly low threshold of adopting and trying out new stuff in FB has made the system inherently vulnerable for scams and viruses. Malware, like the Koobface worm have been spreading in the system, hackers abusing both the relatively lax vetting process of new applications and the openness of the system and trust of the user base. How does this sound so familiar? Didn't we have exactly these kinds of problems when the internet was new and viruses started to spread?

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