When it comes to technology, I am what you would call “old school”. I came out of the PC era and cut my digital teeth in hardware and packaged software and lived in that world exclusively for over half my career. I was quite comfortable with that era and have to admit that, when the Internet came along, I was both excited and somewhat terrified — it took me completely out of my analytical comfort zone. In fact, I remember having dinner with Marc Andreeson not long after Netscape was founded and, as he explained his vision for the World Wide Web, I instinctively knew this would be disruptive. But I had no clue how disruptive it would be and how much it would eventually impact my world and future analysis.
Then MySpace hit the scene and the era of social networking was born. At first I did not pay much attention to it since it was mainly for high schoolers. But once Facebook came out and extended its reach to college kids first and families second, I got sucked in. Now Facebook has become an important part of my life.
Over the last few months, I have fielded some interesting calls from media and financial analysts asking about Facebook’s long term outlook. I had one finance person actually ask if I thought Facebook was just a flash in the pan and was looking to find someone who could corroborate his position that it would lose steam and not achieve any long term value for investors.
Since I am not a financial analyst, I can’t talk to its long term financial growth potential although it does seem they have some pretty savvy business people running the company. Also, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has grown a lot over the last 5 years and seems to be guiding it in a solid direction. However, I am convinced Facebook has hit a couple of nerves that for me makes it an enduring part of my life and I suspect for millions of people this will always be the case.
The first area it impacts people is with the family connection. Most people have family scattered around the world and using Facebook to stay in touch brings significant value. Ironically, my brothers, sisters and I live in the same town but, because of our busy schedules, we don’t see each other very often. Yet, we know what each other are doing almost daily and follow the various kids’ activities on Facebook and, to my surprise, stay more connected than before Facebook. In my case, it brought another important dimension in the way of family connections. For some reason, my Filipino father never talked about his family in the Philippines. We knew he had brothers and sisters but we never knew much about them. About three years ago, I started getting Facebook friend requests from people with the last name of Bajarin in the Philippines. As I queried them, I found they were actually cousins — children of my dad’s brothers and sisters he left when he immigrated to the US and never kept in touch with. Through them, I was able to finally trace the Filipino family connections I had not even known about. And now I keep in touch with them too.
The second area where Facebook impacts people is through connections with friends. Through it I have reconnected with friends from high school, church youth groups of my past as well as friends and acquaintances I have met over the years. This has become important and enriches my life immensely, in particular when I had a triple bypass 2 years ago. During that time, I heard from friends around the world cheering me on and encouraging me during the recovery. I even had a few long lost friends who had had the same surgery and I got valuable tips about the recovery process from them. During this very difficult time for me, Facebook delivered a daily ray of sunshine and proved an invaluable way to connect and communicate with these friends from all over the world.
The third area Facebook makes an impact is with business associates and in my case, with my clients. Too often the business people we work with or know are just that — business associates not seen as human beings with their own families, hobbies and personal lives. In this case, Facebook has been a game changer for me and my relationships with people I interact with or do business with at any given time. Since Facebook by nature has a more personalized construction to its form and function compared to LinkedIn, which drives more formal business relationships and connections, Facebook’s role in enhancing my personal relationships with these business acquaintances has become important.
Hearing about a PR friend’s daughter’s ballet recital brings a smile to my face. Hearing how a Sr. Exec I know just finished his first marathon adds new respect for him and his achievement. When one of them posts they are ill, I make sure to respond and send get well wishes. When I hear one of these business associates has lost someone dear to them, I send condolences and what I say is truly sincere.
For many people Facebook has brought humanity to our many business relationships and we are all the better for it.
Facebook now connects 1.2 billion people, although I suspect the number of people who really use it consistently is only about 40% at best. Even so, the types of connections these folks have with family, friends and business associates says to me Facebook will continue to play a very important role in many people’s lives for many years to come and is by no means a flash in the pan.
Because of this role, Facebook’s responsibilities to their users increases by the day. They must be trusted to protect their users and their interests and keep them secure and stave off any type of malware that could affect them. They also have to be prudent stewards of their members’ data and keep it from any outside forces that would like to access or even exploit them if they could. At the business level, they must also continue to grow the company in order to be able to provide users with this powerful communications platform where all of these personal connections can be made.
In the end, Facebook’s enduring lure should continue to power these social connections well into the future. I see Facebook continuing to play an important role in my life for many years ahead and I believe that will be the case for millions of other people too.