Can You Claim to Be in Social Media without Having a Facebook Account?

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You bet! Let’s see… Over the course of the weekend Mitch Joel twittered the following question: "Can you claim to be in Social Media and not have a Facebook account?". Of course, that made me think about it for a bit, since it is not the first time that I am confronted with such a question when people keep asking me why I am not in Facebook just yet. And here is the thing.

Facebook is not the ultimate social networking application. In fact, it is not even a social network  -*love* this blog post from Euan Semple on this very same topic; to start with "Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you", taken directly from its homepage and clearly not mentioning the terms social networking or social media at all, because, to me, it also breaks the number one rule from any true social computing application: you always in control of your own privacy. (Anyone reading up on the mess that quechup has provoked lately?)

Yes, that is right. Facebook does a pretty lousy job respecting the privacy and Web presence from the individual. And if you want to read a really good story about it and the kind of stress that it can provoke not respecting that privacy, check out the superb weblog post put together by Matt Moore on this very same topic: I want to stay hidden, where one of Matt’s comments is just spot on about my own sentiments regarding the adoption of Facebook:

"I think we all need to own our boundaries as much as we can. And respect the boundaries of others. I don’t have any issues with LinkedIn, Facebook, etc at the moment but I do want to control my interactions with othersI want to retain the right to say "no" or even to say nothing at all. And if that right gets taken away from me then I will leave" (Emphasis mine)

Thus, to the question put together by Mitch on whether you can claim to be in social media with or without having a Facebook account, the answer, to me, is very clear: Of course you can! Facebook is just another Web application that helps you aggregate content about the stuff you are interested in and that you may want to share with others. But that is it. Social Media has been running for years. And it is not going to stop there with Facebook. In fact, the latter has been running for years already in the past, but no-one made such claims before till 2007. Thus what happened then? Why did we all lived social media in the past, and why can’t we go on like that all of a sudden, just because Facebook is there?

To me, it is just pretty much like MySpace, Orkut, Ziki, or whatever other offering you would use to aggregate your content into a single Web space. Like many of those offerings, at the very beginning you decide whether you would want to stick around with it or not, and that would be it. Facebook just doesn’t cut for me. Not before, not now, not later.

But that does not mean that I am not interested in listening or reading about the kind of impact it’s having (After all, most of the folks I hang out on the Web do have their accounts in there already, so I get to learn a lot about it as time goes by). Just because I want to protect my privacy and my own Web presence does not mean that I cannot claim to be in Social Media. Because after all, how soon would it be before Facebook is taken over by the next big thing on the Web 2.0 space? (Pretty much like it happened with Orkut or MySpace or … <please insert name here>).

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Worth while sharing it along?

14 Comments »

  • Luis: so what’s the problem here? You don’t have to invite anyone to ‘friend’ you. You don’t have to accept invitations. You don’t have to enter information you consider private. You can create private groups. Does the semantic difference matter that much? 35 million people (and growing) don’t seem to care. You can hardly say FB has taken over MySpace which is x3 the size and has a long way to go before it catches up.

    The value is in the applications and the fact it represents a metaphor for what can be achieved. There’s a lot of stuff in there worth looking at – whether it has long term business utility is another matter. On that criteria, I’d whittle it back to a handful.

    If I was forced to choose only 1 app it would Google Share Items which provides insights into the reading habits of those people who are of interest to me and which enhance my learning.

    The fact it is a roach motel is a major irritation because I want to get my data out of there. It is possible and there are significant potential business applications. But…this is all nascent stuff so I’m prepared to be relaxed.

    Oh yes – it has RSS feeds (your pet hobby horse ;)

    Like anything else in this space – it depends on what you want out of the ‘system.’ So far, it has delivered stand out value to me. Until the next best thing comes along – which could be Plaxo – if it gets the open source style steroids it needs.

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  • Barry Leiba says:

    The problem is being “forced to choose”. If you set up a web site in the “normal” way, everyone can see what you put there. With the “social networking” sites (at least as I’ve seen them), there’s a limit to what “non-members” can do. As with the IM systems, each social network is trying to get the most members, so they force people to join because the people they want to contact have joined. And Facebook doesn’t interoperate with MySpace doesn’t interoperate with LiveJournal doesn’t interoperate with LinkedIn doesn’t….

    For example, I did, after a lot time of holding out, sign up for a LinkedIn profile, which I have kept hidden… purely because I needed to get in touch with someone who I could only find on LI. And it didn’t even let me send a “regular” message; I had to ask the person to “be my friend”. In that “invitation”, I gave my real e-mail address, we made contact outside of LI, and I hope never to have to use that poxy thing again.

    In general, competing technologies for collaboration — at least ones that are substantially the same as each other — only cause fragmentation and annoyance. We need a standard, so that they can all talk to one another and then differentiate themselves based on innovative add-ons, instead of by saying “We have more members than the other ones.” Of course, the social sites do not want to do that.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the public understood that, and just refused to play along with the social-network-empires?

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  • Barry – that’s what OpenID is about. Check out Plaxo Pulse.

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  • Luis Suarez says:

    Thanks much, Dennis, for dropping by and for the value feedback comments! The problem hasn’t got anything to do with friending people or accepting invites, creating private groups. It is more of a situation of entering information in your profile that you would feel comfortable with. Just like in real life. You just don’t go out to total strangers, which is what we all are out there in the Internet, and starting talking about your political affiliations and whatever else. There needs to be something else to it for that sort of information to come out. Trust. Something that Facebook does not seem to respect or work its way through it.

    You can actually say the same thing about MySpace and Orkut and what happened to them. They get a whole lot more traffic that what Facebook does, but they still have to prove their usefulness beyond the Web site itself, which it hasn’t. And Facebook not being quite open about it is just adding some more on to it. Yes, I know you can extract data and everything from it, but I want to do it just simply through my User Preferences or whatever other settings. Oh, and this is just a matter of preference, but I am not keen on half-filling profiles with your information, because amongst other things, in a total stranger environment it looks like you are hiding something and therefore, up front, people would have trust issues with you, just like in real life.

    I do think that Facebook has got a certain impact, I am not going to deny it, it has probably opened a whole new world of possibilities, but just because I am not using it I don’t think that closes the door about getting it or not getting it as far as social computing is concerned. It would be interesting to see the kind of impact Facebook, as is, would have in a corporate environment. Perhaps something to give a try and check how people would react to it, in a situation where plenty of countries have got a number of different privacy laws in place and different reservations would come out eventually. Something that Facebook would have to look at. I am thinking that if FB would have been developed in a European country it would be completely different. Check out Ziki as an example of what I mean with that.

    I don’t think it is an issue to choose between one tool or the other. I do not believe on the single killer app. that does everything for you, but I certainly agree with you that we are only at the beginning of things and that is why w.r.t. Facebook I am not jumping into the bandwagon just yet. Oh, yes, I know about the RSS feeds as well, but their implementation has never been as rich as you could expect. Lots of room for improvement in that area as well.

    RE: “Like anything else in this space – it depends on what you want out of the ’system.’” I just couldn’t have agreed more with that quote. You are spot on. That is why so far I am not seeing what I can get out of the system, but see lots of other stuff that I am not sure the system would need or find relevant.

    Thanks again for the feedback!

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  • Luis Suarez says:

    Hi Barry! Thanks for the feedback comments and for chiming in! Welcome to elsua! ;-)

    I am not sure I would agree with Dennis on whether what you are talking about would be OpenID or not. However, you bring in a superb point. Something that a few folks have been mentioning all along and which I guess is going to be the next killer app. for whichever social network that makes it work: a universal social networking profile that you can reuse in multiple social networking sites with a single click. Something like a universal profile that you can re-use over and over and over, including the carrying-over-with-you of your social networks contacts so that right away you have got it up and running and ready to go, instead of having to build on it like we all do with most of them, which means you are always going to miss folks out because of wanting to get value add right away.

    To me, that is one of the main reasons why Facebook will not cut it. It is just another data aggregator. The next killer app. would be the one providing that universal social networking profile that would work for say Top 30 or 50 social networks out there. That would be a good start and something that I would go and say: “Where do I sign up, please?”

    Thanks again for adding further into the conversation.

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  • Mitch Joel says:

    Luis, this is a great Blog posting and conversation.

    It’s hard to get a message across in a tweet, so let me frame it a little.

    When I asked this question, I was asking it in terms of a Marketing Professional who “sells” Social Media Marketing as a part of their Marketing practice.

    If we’re talking on that level, I would have to disagree with you. I think it’s really hard to work with Clients in this space if you have not played with – and are unfamiliar with – Facebook.

    Regardless of privacy, etc… it is, by far, one of the leading online environments in Canada, and this is where most of the people online are congregating. If you’re claiming – as a Marketer – to understand this space and you have not be involved (or even tried out) Facebook, I would most certainly have a difficult time working with you.

    It’s not a question of whether I like it or not (or even if I agree with its policies). It’s where the mass population is and where they are connecting to one another.

    It reminds me of the whole “I don’t have time for Second Life.” We’re all busy. I get it. But, as a Marketer, my job is to know where my clients’ consumers are and what they’re talking about. Not being in on Facebook is doing them a disservice.

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  • Luis – you don’t have to do very much to join FB and you can decide which of your info is for ‘friends’ etc. There is a decent privacy model but I understand your concern.

    As always with these new toys – we need follow the conversation and see if we’re persuaded.

    Never say never – I did about Twitter ans felt a complete idiot when the penny dropped. But hey – I’m enterprisey at heart so…

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  • Luis Suarez says:

    Hi Mitch! Thanks much for the feedback comments and for dropping by! Welcome to elsua! I surely agree with you that Twitter was probably not the best medium to carry out the conversation, so I am glad to see you have added some additional context into the conversation.

    “When I asked this question, I was asking it in terms of a Marketing Professional who “sells” Social Media Marketing as a part of their Marketing practice.”

    With that particular context and given the explanation you have provided, I can certainly agree with you on it. It is not a nice-have, but a must-have! In that particular scenario you are describing it is something that I would call essential and out of the question. Oh, by the way, not just for marketing professionals, but for everyone out there who is advising clients on what is happening in the social computing scene. As simple as that.

    Continuing further with some of the arguments put together, now that we are in full agreement with the initial thoughts, I agree with you about the role Facebook has been having in countries like Canada, but so has Orkut in Brazil, for instance, or XING for the rest of Europe, Bebo in the UK, LinkedIn in the US, and the list goes on and on and on. I am thinking that just because the penetration rate has been high enough in one particular country that does not mean it would pick up elsewhere as well. There are a whole bunch of issues, like culture, customs, languages, etc. etc. that would need to be taken into account. And Facebook would have to accommodate to that as well, whether it likes it or not. Have you heard of Facebook picking up some more momentum in countries so varied like Brazil, Russia, China or India? I wonder what would be the next big thing for them…

    “If you’re claiming – as a Marketer – to understand this space and you have not be involved (or even tried out) Facebook, I would most certainly have a difficult time working with you”

    You wouldn’t have a problem working with me in that particular case, because I am in the exact same situation. I am been involved in a good number of conversations, perhaps the subject for another weblog post, where people have been saying that you surely can sell Social Media without actually making use of it, but like my good friend Ian Hughes used to say, “Web 2 is Web Do“. And I still stand by it. You need to have an exposure with those social software tools that you feel you would be the most connected with so that the same way you are sold on them, you can evangelise about them to other knowledge workers.

    RE: “It’s where the mass population” > Errr, I would say probably better where a small fraction of the mass population of Internet users. Still to be paying attention to it, no doubt, but not just as the only thing there is, because it isn’t.

    I surely agree with your final comments, and perhaps an open question to you and everyone else who may dare to answer it: How long would it be before we would possibly not have enough physicial time to work our way on all of the different social networks out there today? Something tells me that we may be reaching that point very soon, if not already. So,imo, there must be something else than we need to do than just having a presence in each and everyone of those tools.

    Thanks again for the feedback and for dropping by!

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  • Luis Suarez says:

    Dennis, I know you do not have to do much to join Facebook. In fact, here is a little secret. I once was a Facebook user and had an account there, but after playing around with it for a couple of days I decided to remove it and it is still in that status: removed. For how long? I don’t know. From what I have been reading all over the place Facebook does not have a very decent privacy model (Here is a good link, “Does what happens in the Facebook stay in the Facebook?“, you may want to check out, if you haven’t done it already). I may be wrong on that one, but if you keep reading it gets even much more interesting.

    I surely am following the conversation(s), Dennis, from you and everyone in my blogroll, and beyond, who are already making use of Facebook and who are sharing their own experiences on the subject. From what I have been reading though, I haven’t been persuaded just yet ;-)

    Pretty much like what happened with MySpace. Everyone encouraged me as well to give it a try and play around with it. And at the time I was not persuaded. Not then. Not even now. And unless Facebook changes a few things, some of them highlighted over here in this post, I guess it will never be able to persuade me.

    Oh, just so that you can have some good fun, I just joined Pulse from Plaxo and played around with it already. We shall see how that goes…

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  • […] I’ve recently seen a flurry of blogs about the merits (or not) of Facebook as a social networking environment. I was stirred to action when I read Elsua’s blog this morning, which in turn refers to the question posed by Mitch Joel “Can you claim to be in social media without having a Facebook account”. […]

  • Luis Suarez says:

    For the sake of continuing further with the conversation over here as well, I am going to reproduce the commentary I left over at Steve Dale’s blog post trackbacked above:

    “Hi Steve! Great thoughts and very nicely put together! Thanks for adding further up into the conversation. You almost nearly convinced me to dive in and join the rest of the crowd. But, to follow up further from your conversation, I am very serious about social media as I feel it is helping change all of the negativity around KM that we have been “suffering from” all of these years. However, from that to say I, or whoever else, is an expert, it is an understatement. Lots and lots of stuff has been written about what an expert is and what is not.

    And I feel that if I would join Facebook and start using it would that make me an expert on the subject? I don’t think so. I just become another user, like with many other platforms. And like everyone else. Everyone that claims to be an expert in whatever the field clearly needs to demonstrate they have got that expertise and leadership to show it and I am not sure about you, but I know a very few of those. And certainly not in the social media space where people are just getting started with it :-)

    I prefer to say, more than an expert, that knowledge workers become knowledgeable about a particular subject, which they do, but from that to say they are experts for just using one tool or another is a bit of an understatement.

    My authority to comment on what I see about Facebook is not such. People may agree with it or not, but what gives me the capability of exercising that authority. Do I have any diploma or certification to justify that authority, or is it going to be based on how I get to use the tools, because if that is the case there are then millions of experts with authority on Facebook. WOW! Never thought about that. Why would I want to add further up into the clutter, eh?

    Oh, and one final comment, to say that Facebook is a social network, when they themselves deny that fact is not helping much social computing and Facebook. It is just a platform to aggregate content, just like with any other application out there. Before was MySpace (Do you have a MySpace address?), then OrKut (Got another account there?) and so forth. Facebook is just the next one up. Pretty interesting and exciting, but just because everyone decides to jump into the river does not necessarily mean we can walk along the coast, right?

    (Yes, you nearly convinced me to join Facebook. The closest I have been thus far ;-) )”

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  • hi Luis. I totally respect your decision to leave this Wonderland experience alone. I have switched off my wall and restricted access to certain information in my privacy settings. Not sure an “associate” really wants to know a girl from my old mothers group just found out she is pregnant! And I constantly question *what* I want to make public. I wish there were better options to distinguish friends vs associates under the privacy settings, at the moment it is restricted to networks. However, that said, I love the visual interface of it all, I enjoy the way it works as a visual mini-web, I enjoy the social appeal, and have found some wonderful books and events via FB. It is, sadly, strangely addictive. Maybe just as well you don’t use it Luis, or you would have less time to blog!!

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  • […] I definitely don’t like that idea. It reminds me of The Prisoner where the nameless hero yells: “I am not a number, I am a free man” on the opening sequence to each show. And as a free man, I want my data to be free. Luis Suarez , my sometimes IBM sparring partner is vociferous in his objections to Facebook. At the time he wrote his objections, I said that you can control your privacy and under the latest changes you still can. But can you really? I don’t know any longer. I know that Google and others who want my data are in the business of using it for targeted advertising. But what if…? […]

  • […] Can You Claim to Be in Social Media without Having a Facebook Account? […]

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