I want to talk about how Facebook has replaced our personal public branding (especially for the individuals, more for the companies in a later post) and how people are benefiting from it and how some people are losing out.
To explain this, I want to talk about 2 stories.
1. Facebook Usernames : Have you gotten yours yet? If not, you missed the maddest digital namespace gold rush one can ever witness, it happened last Friday. Facebook announced couple of days back they are going to be assigning Usernames to their users. You may wonder how they have been working without one so far? Well, they do have user numbers so far, and an email address is used for authentication. Now, this username would appear in the url(A prominent digital real estate). Something very very important – because not only Google would index that url and store it forever into the future but this would be an one stop shop for everyone else on the net to get any information about you.
500,000 people registered for their name in the first 15 mins of opening the gates. Over the weekend over 6 million got their names. That’s just mind boggling numbers. I believe over a period of time Facebook has grown from “I-know-these-people” to “This-is-how-I-Brand-myself” system. Having 1000’s of friends is no longer cool. But what you have in common with them and what you do differently from them is cool. Taking those millions (often annoying) tests, quizzes is not just killing time but defining and stating who we are with respect to those results that these Quizzes produce.
Facebook has grown from a bunch of PHP files to a huge Platform, a eco-system where 3rd party developers can add in their creativity and build applications for the user base of FB. This means, a million ways I can differentiate and make myself unique and branded in my own style. All this would be done under your account of Facebook. Pretty soon – FB would be the standard profile you would be giving out to people (The fine grained settings of who sees what – would keep on growing).
I am more convinced about this because I observed a shift with two services I use with respect to FB.
Flickr: Long time ago, I created a Flickr account. I have about 15GB of pictures, most of them should never see the light of the day! But I was under the impression that I should load up all my pics onto my Flickr(pro) account and believed that “they will come”. Well, I got tired of uploading them half way through and my picture gallery hallways were lonely and haunting. This was even before FB was around. Then came along FB. People started to add their pictures to it. Now it becomes interesting because you can tag people in it and sometimes if you have really old pictures, you can embarrass them too. Jokes aside, what this did was – I filtered out my pics (not all 15,289 pics need to be on Internet) and I put out pics which are meaningful and somehow enables participation of my friends. Along the way what I am also doing is – I building a public self-image.
Twitter: Twitter, as you all know is the bomb diggity of anything that has ever been invented. Or that’s what we are told. I think twitter is a very un-disciplined system. You have many followers, but they are not invested, may be interested but not committed to you. Usually the Twitter stream gets updated pretty fast and it’s hard to keep track. So, over a period of time followers develop ‘follower forgetfulness’ – which basically means I follow about 4000 people and I don’t really care what they do. And as for the leaders on Twitter, they wouldn’t stop with their thoughtful posts but they would post before, during & after they have been to a restroom. This leads to ‘Twitter Clutter’.
Enter Facebook. What Facebook provided to Twitter is “Context”. Under FB’s aegis it was relayed to my friends rather than my mindless million followers. This helped me to further my message to my group of friends. To brand myself with certain thinking.
Don’t get me wrong about Flickr & Twitter. I love both these services, I just think as more and more FB becomes successful at being our Digital Home – Flickr is predominantly going to be used as a photo backup system and Twitter will predominantly be used as ‘News’ relayed in real time system. Imagine what happened in the case of Iran elections. Because of Twitter we know a lot about what happened in Iran in real time. And as time progresses it might end up being used a lot by news agencies, marketing agencies, celebrities, tech celebrities etc. I know a lot of people who use Twitter to relay their company’s message and FB to relay what they personally think.
So, anyhow how all this is connected to Facebook name madness? Because, like I mentioned it’s going to be indexed and linked on major search engines. These usernames will become your visiting cards, persona, branding machine. As for me, I did my share in participating in this madness. At 9:20PM I sneaked out from a bunch of friends visiting us, having a heated debate about Spirituality and registered my name. I am reborn from fb/644977146 to fb/akbarpasha. My new self-branded digital home. People with common names & who delayed were disappointed.
2. Facebook Laggards: I am pretty sure many of us have at least 1 friend who defies Facebook gravity, who refuses to join Facebook and calls it a waste of time. I am very much embarrassed to say that my best friend is one of those guys. Because he is not connected to anyone of our classmates, he is completely out of touch with our group of friends. The only friends he know or keeps in touch are the ones in his iPhone – that’s limited by his talk time & available minutes.
Facebook Laggards are missing out on their digital branding. It’s not just about keeping in touch anymore. There is more to it. My friend doesn’t participate in what’s happening in our little FB world. He doesn’t know how and what our buddies think now 10 years later after we left our MBA school. Many have moved onto do pretty cool things, but my friend is not aware of any of it. He lives in a digital desert. His imagination limited by his phone book. What more can I say? He moved to Alabama, became a hardcore conservative (Republican!) and is a fan of O’Reilly show. Gasp.
But as time progressed – I kinda became his window to our Facebook world. Everyone sends a message to me about him and I get back to them about him. I sort of turned myself into his branding manager.
So, if you have any friends who are refusing to join Facebook on the basis of not being part of the herd mentality – please tell them that it’s more than just address book with pretty pictures. It’s the future digital brand, a identity.
(Re-published here with permission from Clear Night Sky)