Thursday, May 1, 2008

Is Facebook the Hub of the (Internet) World?

Several months ago I asked if social networks were the new portals. In the intervening time I’ve had a lot of anecdotal evidence that they are. Teens and young adults “do everything” through their social network account, including most of their email. They don’t use opening pages from portals like AOL and MSN or my beloved personalized Yahoo! page. They do it all through their social network, and increasingly in the US that network is Facebook. My Space is still larger, but Facebook continues its incredible growth, increasing 305% in monthly unique visitors between January 07 and 08.

Two questions: what are teens and young adults doing on these pages (the question of the hour for all parents!) and how much impact does this social networking have?

A recent study from the Pew Foundation sheds light on the first question. The study shows widespread use of social networks by this age group; finding that 93% of American teens ages 12 to 17 use the Internet (P. 3). More than half, 55%, use social networks and 55% have also posted a profile online (p. 11). The study found the teens taking some precautions to protect their identities online; I just hope they were telling the truth! Some information is all right to share; some is questionable. Girls are more careful than boys are about revealing personal information.

Is the answer to my first question, “Just about everything, but they are exercising some judgment?” I think so; I hope so!

How much impact is an even thornier question, but a conversation a few days ago got me thinking about it. I spend a certain portion of my professional life with young working professionals, primarily my graduate students. They use social networks—with care. It was interesting to sit down for two evenings with a large group of undergraduates, mostly from Brown University.

Across the seder table the talk turned to politics and whether young people would turn out for the November election. Older adults were sure the traditional pattern would hold—that young people would say the right things but not turn out to vote. The students were vocal about the fact that young people were registering in large numbers and were confident they would show up at the polls. Skepticism from their elders. What I realized is that there is an active political force this year that has never been present before—the social networks, for this group entirely Facebook. When I made the specific observation, the young students were quick to agree that Facebook would rock the vote among their peers in a way never before seen.

The political impact depends on a number of things that happen between now and November, but the social impact in undeniable. Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and maybe others are the hub of communications for an entire generation, and the impact of that across the board—on social issues and on marketing ones--will continue to be felt in ways now only dimly perceived.
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Abby Jones said...

Hello there.

I enjoyed reading your blog. I agree, Facebook is definitely increasing in popularity, and will only continue to increase even more in the future. I would have to also agree that it is becoming the "hub" of the internet world, as everyone is connected through everyone through the networks on there.

Also, check out my blog as well? Thanks for your time :)

Abby Jones

MaryLou Roberts said...

Thanks, Abby! I will check out your blog!