Home Facebook, the New AOL

Facebook, the New AOL

Remember the last time when an Internet site tried to be all things to all people, limit the way that they accessed their content, and tried to make themselves into the default go-to platform for social networking? Yes, Facebook has aspirations to become the new AOL.

This week’s F8 announcements are certainly exciting for Facebook, extending the site into just about every nook and cranny of our lives. But here’s the rub: it could be going too far. Do we want to really be that social? It is ironic that the service is developed by the most anti-social beings on the planet, those nerds that code by night, stay home by day, and whose preferred method of communications is typing, not talking f2f (face to face, if you have to ask).

So would you rather have your social networking as a platform, FaaP as it were, where it is part of the warp and weft of your Internet experience, baked into everything that you do? (Okay, enough metaphors.) For those over-sharers that post 34 status updates each hour, yes, yes, and more yes. But for the rest of us, who want some balance in our lives, the choice is to layer social networking on top of our existing Internet pathways that have been well worn into our computers. This “front end” social networking is what Microsoft and Google and the rest of the vendors are counting on, with Google+ most notably but with hundreds of others from Cisco’s Quad to Salesforce Chatter to IBM’s Connections trying to almost desperately add that social context to their products. Soon, your IT staff will have a social network to share amongst them tips on how to best configure their firewalls, and so forth. (Note to potential investors: I have the term sheet almost finished.)

When I stated using Google+, I noticed that all of my Picasa photo albums were shared with my peeps. Now, many of the photos in there aren’t all that exciting, such as screenshots that I took for many of the articles that I have written. But some of them are personal and private, and I raced around clicking here and there to ensure that they would stay that way. That was an early consequence of over-sharing for me. And there are going to be plenty more as Facebook turns on this new feature and that. They never have been very respectful of my – or your – privacy. And perhaps all these complaints are just sour grapes; I still have fewer friends than my 20-something daughter, and probably always will. (She was and still is one of the Popular Kids. I was and still am a nerd.) But at least now I don’t feel as bad about it.

So the choice is clear: login to Facebook and be more open about your life’s choices. Or get left behind with the non-social Internet and become an online hermit. I want more choices; it shouldn’t have to be as binary as that. It seems like that’s where we are now.

But if enough of us opt out, Facebook could become like AOL in a few years: an overgrown walled garden that no one wants to visit. Instead of a quaint anachronism of people who still use dial-up modems and like using a 90’s-era Webmail service, we’ll have those over-social folks that spend their days with their updates on Farmville.

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