Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The Great Facebook Debate

Tonight I've been to The Great Facebook Debate, hosted by the British Interactive Media Association, and held at BT's Headquaters in London. It was attended by about 200 people, mainly from the media and marketing industries. Given that Facebook was developed by and for college and university students, I was very surprised that I was the only (as far as I could tell), representative from a University. The first half of the event consisted of 3 speakers giving their opinions of social networking sites. One of them was Hugh MacLeod, a prolific blogger and cartoonist who's premise was that sites like Facebook are basically changing the way we communicate with each other - we should accept this, embrace the change, and get on with life!
Chad Woollen from AOL had some interesting stats about how Facebook has clearly overtaken MySpace in the UK, but interestingly not in the US, and his take on it was how much money there is to be made - either through advertising or developing applications which can then be sold. A good example is "Where I've Been" which was sold earlier this year to TripAdvisor for $3m.

In the second half of the event two motions were debated:

“This House believes that Facebook’s decision to open up its platform to all developers was a mistake”
This was defeated heavily - most people supported Facebook's decision to allow anyone to develop applications. The only arguments against were that there were so many awful applications - vampires, werewolves, zombies being good examples. There were also issues around data being accessed by developers.

“This house believes that friend requests from your boss are best ignored”
This was a very heated debate! As a boss myself I found both sides of the argument interesting - if a little worrying. The main concern was that bosses would use information posted on FB to form opinions of staff which would affect promotions/appraisals. Especially if too many drunken photos were posted. Needless to see this motion was also defeated - but it was close! If there are any members of CiCS reading this - especially those with Facebook accounts - I can assure you that I will be far more worried about you seeing drunken photos of me than the other way round.

Although the whole event was interesting, I was surprised that the Facebook I know through the University network is very different to how it is perceived in the media and marketing industries. They see it totally as a way to make money - there were at least 3 online dating agencies there - and not at all as a collaborative tool which can be used for social networking, but has so many other uses as well.

I will be very interested to see if students - who are by far still the biggest users of Facebook - will leave it in droves if it goes down this route. If any students read this, I'll be very interested to hear your comments.

The nicest thing about meetings in London is that it gives me a chance to see our capital city. I try and walk wherever possible, and tonight stood on the middle of Millenium Bridge (or the wobbly bridge as it's better known), with St Paul's behind me, Tate Modern in front, and the River Thames on both sides - it was stunning. I then walked back to my hotel, and with my fantastic sense of direction managed to do the 25 minute walk in just under an hour!


Stuart B said...

I didn't realise that you were the only representative from HE. Sounds like an interesting debate though.

You need to provide a bit of background about yourself (a picture, perhaps) - if anybody should happen to read this who doesn't know you they wouldn't know what CiCS is.

How will you now find time to do anything else?

pj said...

of course it was a University of Sheffield person who stopped the bridge wobbling...

pj said...

...and of course social networking users are fickle - will myspace's skype service with cheap calls to phones lure facebook users away