Is Facebook worth more than $30 a share? We will find out tomorrow and more importantly, in the days to come. But it’s been worth a lot to me, so the question of what the value of Facebook is in our society now is quite interesting. I thought today would be a good moment to explain its value to me.
“I don’t do FB.” I hear this a lot, even though there are now over 900 million Facebook users so I am kind of wondering why I know so many hold-outs (besides my mom, I mean). I usually respond, cautiously, that Facebook is essential these days, a social utility like the telephone. And that means it is worth quite a lot. Why?
The word “friends” is a misnomer that confuses a lot of people who distrust the Facebook world. How could you have 200 or 500 “friends”? My Facebook contacts are not a list of my friends – I am not equally close or intimate with all the people to whom I am connected. But it is a genuine community of real people who know me, inside of which are different but overlapping circles of family, close and casual friends, colleagues from a variety of jobs and activities, neighbors from several homes, and classmates from various schools. That reflects normal life pretty well, doesn’t it?
Facebook has become particularly useful when you are in transition – between homes, jobs, schools, travels around the world, anywhere you’ve created a circle of people don’t want to leave behind. It’s great that it is global when, like me, you’ve lived in lots of different places. Email – well, it just takes too much time to stay in touch with more than a few people, and who likes getting emails with large cc lists? Not all that personal really.
I left a job a year ago. In a flash I lost access to the email listserve with hundreds of colleagues with whom I had worked for years. Not my first job transition. But this one has been very different. Through Facebook for the first time, I found myself in easy touch with many of the people with whom I used to have lunch and share jokes. We still exchange shoptalk and rib each other, in real time. When someone in my FB world has a big announcement – a new boss, a baby, a retirement, an event, or a birthday, I hear about it and see the photos. When I do see or call them, it is much easier to pick up the conversation because I know they’ve been on vacation to Cabo, gotten a dog or changed jobs. I even got invited to and kept track of my high school reunion in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
When I got sick last year, I could keep up with what my family, friends, and colleagues were doing even when I wasn’t getting around a lot. I could check in on the antics of various young relatives, though I try not to comment on their pages! When I finally told my FB friends that I had breast cancer (partly because it was getting hard to remember who I had told privately), I got an amazing flow of supportive messages from all over my world. People kept track of my progress in private messages, visits and comments. Now that I am fine and back working, Facebook offers an easy way to pick up conversations, exchange messages, and search for people with whom I have lost contact. It is quite efficient and definitely not a waste of time. You put into it what you need, and you get out of it what you put into it.
That’s why when people say, “I don’t do Facebook,” I respond, “You should try it, it works.” What I don’t say is why do you want to be left out, when you too will go through these normal transitions in life and this kind of new social media allows you to carry your relationships with you? What is more valuable than your network?
So, Mark Zuckerberg, are you worth all the money the market is throwing at you in this IPO? We’ll see over the long term, whatever that is in a social media world. But thanks a lot for making possible these conversations, photo and news sharing with my family and friends. Just remember please two things as Facebook grows: privacy does matter, and so does doing good. We look forward to seeing how this story will play out.