Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Facebook, the King of Social Networks

Written by johnleemk on 1:05:28 pm May 4, 2007.
Categories: ,

In the internet, there are a number of ways to keep in touch with old friends while making new ones. The most common method, however, is to join a social network such as Friendster or Myspace, where people can keep track of one another.

For some reason, these websites take up an inordinate amount of teenagers' time. Every time I go to the college computer lab, it seems half the computers will have a Friendster page open.

Until recently, I did not understand the appeal of these social networks. I have accounts on both Friendster and Myspace — Friendster is the dominant social network in much of Southeast Asia, while Myspace seems to have a monopoly in the United States.

However, I never found much to do in these networks. On Friendster, most of the people I have as "friends" are either people I see in daily life, people I don't have anything to say to or any reason to call up out of the blue, people I don't really know but added me because of some tenuous social connection, or a combination of the three.

For both Friendster and Myspace, the only reason I joined was so that people would stop bugging me to join them. But I did not find much use for these sites; not naturally being a social person, I saw no reason to do the petty personal blogging that seems to have obsessed many people, or to randomly comment on people's profiles.

With both, it did not help that users could customise their profiles to no end. To some extent, this is healthy, but it truly is painful on the senses to encounter far too many pages with white text on black backgrounds and annoying music playing. (Nor does it help that a number of these pages are broken on Mozilla Firefox, the web browser of champions.)

Still, there was one social network I had never joined — Facebook. A few months ago, I did attempt to register out of curiosity, but was stopped by the age limit. To join, one must either be part of an existing network on Facebook — be it a company, school, college or university — or be above 18. Since none of my schools or colleges are on Facebook, and I am not yet 18, I gave up.

About a week ago, though, I was invited to join the Facebook group (not network) of international students in the Dartmouth College Class of 2011. Fed up with not being able to see what Facebook was like and why people were raving about it, I gave my year of birth as 1989.

Upon registration, I was incredibly impressed by the order and structure Facebook offers. For one, it has a very clean and uniform interface — users cannot change the look and feel of their profiles, or add irritating music.

But more importantly, unlike Friendster, Facebook allows you to organise your friends. You can note how you know a particular person, and you can see what your friends are up to. Friendster typically says "so-and-so changed his profile"; Facebook says "so-and-so added The Beatles to his favourite music".

The usage of groups and networks also imposes a structure on Facebook that is sorely lacking from websites like Friendster or Myspace. In Facebook, most people are part of a substantial number of groups, making it easier to find new friends with common interests. And because each group has its own profile and own discussion board, it is easy to start a conversation with other people about specific topics, rather than the general mundanities of a site like Friendster.

Friendster and Myspace have been trying to adopt these things from Facebook, but they don't seem to have been particularly successful, at least from my vantage point. I certainly have not found Friendster helpful in striking up discussions about Wikipedia or Malaysian society, which I already have on Facebook. Nor have I made any lasting new friends through Friendster.

Meanwhile, on Facebook, I already have one new good friend (who is apparently also a friend of one of my friends), and several new acquaintances. These are things I've accomplished in one week on Facebook — things I have yet to do on Friendster, despite having been a member for four years.

And because Facebook allows you to easily keep track of what your friends are up to through a centralised newsfeed (as long as they update their Facebook profile), striking up a conversation with old friends you've lost touch with can be quite easy. On Friendster, though, the only way I know of to keep track of others' lives is to monitor individual Friendster pages.

Facebook is also free of annoyances that pervade Friendster; I have not received a single chain letter on Facebook to date, while I have stopped bothering with my bulletins and personal messages on Friendster because 99% of them are chain letters.

Although I have a Myspace account, my experience with it is rather limited, so I have avoided much direct comparisons between it and Facebook. But as far as I can tell, the only reason to have a Myspace account as well as a Friendster account (or vice-versa) is because some people use only one social networking website. Aside from the people, there is not much difference between Myspace and Friendster.

Facebook, though, has come up with a truly unique product. It has its downsides — for instance, you cannot post forum messages unless you enter a captcha or verify your account through some mechanism that only works if you have a cellphone in the United States — but it brings hierarchy and structure to the unmitigated chaos of social networking.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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