Up until about a year and a half ago I left my Facebook account unused. I made the account originally in 2005 as a response to the buzz generated in an email listserv surrounding social networking. Some were touting podcasts, some were touting photo sharing, some were touting virtual 3D worlds like Second Life. But still there were more people interested in MySpace and the high school crowd. But all the cool kids in College were going into Facebook. Fashions change, people leave their old accounts until finally they are locked and expired.
Fast forward to October 2007 where I logged in to Facebook for the first time in six months. And to my surprise Facebook had added ‘affinity’ features like ‘other people you may know’. Depending on people’s willingness to self select (by joining groups), Facebook would try to promote creating extensive networks by showing names of people ‘like’ yourself. The big benefit being you may recognize and ‘friend’ those people and run up your total friends count. What’s crazy is this actually worked, I found someone who had attended my college alma mater and immediately recognized his face from his profile thumbnail. I put in a friend request and within a week there we were chatting back and forth via the Facebook discussion/news widget called the Wall.
Before you know it I would start to see people he added as friends and that opened a whole new world. While I may have been out of the loop and not know who was and who wasn’t on Facebook, others seemed to gravitate to one another. Eventually I discovered an old girlfriend of this same fellow I found. And things stayed pretty stable after that, a small network of former college classmates (me, him and her). Towards Spring of 2008 suddenly another wave of Facebook immigrants entered. In this group was a network node point who had been a center of attention all during his undergrad days. He had a unique lastname and firstname and everyone start clambering onto Facebook to reconnect to him. His network was even bigger now that he is a college professor so his total friend count was through the roof early on. By Summer 2008 things were slowing down again but a much larger percentage of college friends were now firmly ensconced in the Facebook universe. I think we were well over 40% of the people I had known back then.
Come Fall of 2008 lightning struck once more when the second network node point entered Facebook. And this really got things rolling. This woman had been the center of a lot of social activities parties and road trips. She had moved in a lot of circles and had documented it the whole way. It was the tendency towards photography that made the difference. Her photographs broke through and motivated some very reticent, stubborn laggards into joining Facebook. Everyone wanted to see the pictures of themselves and all their friends. Lots of people now had kids and hadn’t had any contact with their college acquaintances in 12 years. This was big stuff. No amount of social networking websites prior to Facebook had nearly the mothlight attraction this one person had once she loaded her pictures into Facebook. This is the true miracle of social networking when one person effects a change on such a massive scale, wholly out of proportion to the word of mouth or typical ways Facebook gains new accounts.