Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Facebook, Community, and the Deconstruction of the Internet

The chart on the left has been quite the sensation around the internet the last few days and the article that accompanied the chart is also very interesting in its insight. 

A very simple summary is that  Americans are dramatically increasing the time they spend on Facebook but that this increase in time on Facebook is now coming at a decrease in the amount of time Americans spend on the rest of the web.  I think that the article states it best when it says, "The Social Web Versus the Searchable Web."

Yes, the web as a social utility has won out over the web as search and educate, but I think that where most people are missing the boat is that while the web is shrinking, so is our definition of community.  In another study just released, 89% of the friends that we have established on Facebook, we have met more than once in person.

Can't help but wonder, particularly in light of the belief that the web was going to change the world, change the way we live, and how we see the world, if the reality isn't that once again the old adage, the more things change the more they remain the same isn't true?

It also makes me realize that maybe my post from the other day is something that I need to develop and sell to some venture capital firm; I just might have stumble on the next multi billion dollar idea!

Maybe people are overwhelmed, maybe they are just recoiling from the constant bombardment of information, and they have retreated to the familiar; to the comfort of friends and family.

When you realize that cable news viewership is down, that Walmart is developing a "Walmart Express" in their attempt to cure their slumping sales and Best Buy has announced that they are going to begin renting space in their stores to other retailers, there obviously is a retrenchment from the excess going on.

Of course everyone is going to rush to promote themselves on Facebook,  now the focus will be on social media and "likes", rather than on search and "clicks."  But the reality is that isn't going to do a thing but make Facebook a really wild IPO in 2012. 

From my experience with Fan pages, ads, and promotions on Facebook, I would have to say that most folks use Facebook at work; the greatest results are between 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.  Now, I have no idea if this is real data or just anecdotal but it would be interesting to see Facebook use vs. web use by time of day.  Then we have the development of programs such as Klout and Honestly which are being developed to help use identify who is trustworthy on the web but the reality is Americans are retreating to their comfort zone, of people they are retreating to communities of people they have met and know well; I think we are witnessing a "blowback" amongst internet users.

The future of the internet is scalability; users are going to only partake and consume new technology on a very slow and hesitant basis.  People want to connect but they want the security of a community.  From a retail perspective the concept of a consumer centric business model is critical; that gives the consumer a sense of belonging and fitting in.  Retail is no longer about discounts, emails, and advertising, but rather its about building a "Main Street" like relationship with the consumer; think Andy Griffith and Mayberry R.F.D. rather than Star Wars....

The brave new world of the internet has run into the age old desire for familiarity.  I think we need to start looking at the web from the perspective of sociology and psychology rather than from a perspective of marketing and tech.  Communities are not gimmicks, they are not ploys, but rather, like the theme song to the television sitcom "CHEERS" states:
Making your way in the world today
takes everything you've got;
Taking a break from all your worries
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

The future of the internet is not shrinking the world or globalization but rather one of re establishing a sense of belonging:  Its Main Street.

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