We social media wanks often earn our fear money through hyperbolic/histrionic presentations laden with "you're business model is f***ed" slides, typically including a gasp-inducing image that compares the population of users of Facebook to the population of actual countries.
But Facebook isn't really a country. Individual users of Facebook have as much in common with each other as individual users of toilet paper.
And come to think of it, there may be more TP than FB users for a little while yet.
(FB heatmap when they were limping along with 200MM users back on april 8th,2009, stolen from Dave Know's HardKnox life blog…and interesting to note that if in April they were "admitting" 200MM, and in December Zuckerberg claims 350MM, HOLY HOCKEYSTICK, batman.)
If FB were a country, it would be an interesting one – a preselected technological "upper" class who have sufficient material resources to at least guarantee access, so they probably aren't hurting for basic needs – food, shelter, etc.
They'd be the world's third most populous country – 350MM+ people, all a few rungs up Maslow's ladder.
And in spite of various valuation discussions, this "country" of tech "haves" wouldn't be a G-7 or G-20 candidate. Various estimates peg the FB "GDP" at about a billion for 2009 – with about half that coming from ad revenue, the other half from monetization of the FB platform via third party developers. that puts them at #169 for global GDP, a few steps behind St. Lucia, and just edging out Dijibouti.
The smartest, wealthiest, tech saavy folks in the world, 350MM strong, barely edging out a win on Dijibouti? Golly.
But there is something much more interesting and a little sad going on here. A real country has many things that make for an engaged citizenry. The two I think are relevant here are
- economic/social/emotional barriers to leaving, and
- a national mythology/narrative
Friendster, MySpace and Facebook are cheap, easy, and addictive, but their glue is driven by the critical mass of friends (network effect) and the difficulty of porting your entire life onto the NEXT BIG PLATFORM. Facebook Connect is a brilliant way to deflect the need to re-port, but at the end of the day, FB loyalty will be proportional to its perceived utility. Like toilet paper. If there is a softer better cheaper toilet paper, I'll use it.
But none of these social nets has an embedded narrative or mythology. they have a perceived "cool" factor, or not, but they are social tools, little more. FB is doing its best to become the Leatherman of social nets, with a tool, port or app for every need, but I question the loyalty of its users and the longevity of its position. Because they have no narrative. The US Army/Marine Corps CounterInsurgency Manual (available as a pdf here – Download COIN-FM3-24) defines a "narrative" as:
"a story recounted in the form of a causally linked series of events that explains an event in the group's history and expresses the values, characters, or self-identity of the group. Narratives are means through which ideologies are expressed and absorbed by members of a society."
There is no common purpose to FB, no shared mission, no shared narrative.
Like Toilet Paper.
We flush (TP) and upload (FB) our crap every day.
When will a virtual social net nourish our souls?