Anti-Social Media – My take on the Facebook timeline

I’m not a crusty old goat.  You know, that old guy who sits on the park bench reminiscing about the good old days and how these new technological fangle-dangles have ruined society.  I love technology.  My house is wired (actually most wireless) like few others I know.  I have an iPhone, my wife has an iPhone, the kids use the iPad like they were born with it.  I have this blog where I publicly express my opinions with no concern of what others may think.  I also have accounts with and use (with varying frequency) Facebook, Twitter, LinkedInGoogle+ and the like with no real fear of my online privacy beyond an occasional worry about identity theft.  (Note to would be identity thieves:  If you take on my identity you must also agree to take on my mortgage, car payments, and watch the kids at least twice a week.)

Yet still, for some reason that I’m still trying to fully flush out, the announcement of the Facebook timeline yesterday concerns me.

Before I get into my personal opinions about the matter, let me first present my ‘professional’  (lol) opinions.

As a technologist, specifically as one deeply involved with the web, I absolutely love what Facebook has done.  I’ve tried out the timeline via the developer preview and I love the design and the experience.  I know it’s not perfect or ready for mass consumption yet, but damn!  I think they’ve done a fantastic job.  I know that the future of the web is real-time and Facebook has taking a great leap forward to present it to the masses in a way that is very user-friendly.  Kudos to them!

As an employee of a media company, I’m just as excited.  Although not acknowledged often (enough) a media company is inherently two opposing beasts in one, a content creation / delivery platform AND an advertising platform.  Although they may at times abhor each other, neither can well survive on their own.  From the content side, this new realtime timeline is going to be a game changer for us.  We are going to have to shift our tactics once again as we compete for eyeballs.  That’s partly why my team is here, to ensure we don’t get caught flat-footed and that our editorial teams have the tools they need at their disposal to take advantage of this platform.  I am slightly concerned that this way lead to more sensationalist news stories as we compete even more-so with cats playing pianos (more on that in a later post) but I trust the integrity of our content teams.

At the same time, putting on my advertising hat, Facebook is now going be a much stronger competitor than it has in the past.  And make no mistake about it.  Facebook is not a public service.  It is a corporation.  (I know, so are media companies.  I don’t deny that.)  They exist to make money, a lot of money, and the data that is going to feed this timeline is going to be an advertisers dream.  As Facebook continues to be the de facto web for many people, and as those people continue to feed in their personal data, the segmentation and targeting opportunities they will be able to present to advertisers will be game changing.  As a competitor, we will need to either present better alternatives or find a way to partner and take advantage of what they offer.  No wonder Google came out with Google+.  Search is no longer going to be strongest advertising vehicle, it will be social media.

None of this is bothersome.  It may be difficult, it may require significant changes, but our industry will adapt.  It must to survive.

On a personal level one of my first concerns was with regards to personal privacy.  I’m not saying I have anything to hide, but the thought of a corporation tracking and archiving my entire life seems a bit creepy.  And let’s face it, Facebook doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to personal privacy.  However that was short-lived as I realized once again that at the end of they day we each have a choice as to what social networks we join and what data we share.  I don’t have to hook up Netflix to my Facebook account if I don’t want to.  Does anyone really care how many Dora the Explorer shows I watch anyways?  I choose which photos to upload, what messages to write, and which friends I expose all this to.

The part that does bother me is the apparent expansion of what I call anti-social media.  It’s a concern for society, both today and the one my kids will grow up in.  What I observe is that social media is in some fashion actually brewing anti-social behaviour.  Somehow it will be deemed social to watch the same movie, listen to the same song, or cheering for the same team without ever being physically present.  I realize that there are at times barriers that prevent people from getting together, and for those times this tools are a great alternative.  But I pray it doesn’t become the norm, that someday we will share the great dish we cooked up via ‘social-media’ because it’s just more convenient as opposed to inviting that same person over to share that dinner with you.  After watching this all unfold at F8, an old quote came to mind that I’ve taken the liberty to revise:

A good friend will tag you on Facebook, but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying ‘Damn, that was fun!’

Feel free to correct me.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.  I hope I’m wrong.  This may all be completely unfounded and one day I may just be that old guy sitting on the park bench talking to the pigeons.   Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go publish this post on Twitter, Google+, and yes, even Facebook.