Thursday, December 31, 2009

#1 - Facebook


It was the decade when...

You were your status update.

100 days, 100 trends. And what tops our survey? What trend of the aughts surpasses all others?

Obviously, the Internet played a massive role in the aughts. Perhaps the major role. Our connection with our friends, lovers, and acquaintances was mediated by the information superhighway. And those who controlled the means of communication controlled our lives. The aughts saw a grand drama of competing social networking sites striving for our allegiance and online devotion. What began as a Friendster flurry quickly morphed into MySpace mania. With MySpace it appeared, for a brief respite, that the general populace had agreed unilaterally on a social networking site to triumph over all others. But alas, the actual site proved unwieldy, prone to profiles of women of ill repute and myriad alt-rock bands promoting their latest faux Arcade Fire-esque album. The neatness and clarity of Friendster was lost in the graphic overload. MySpace could not sustain itself. Another social network was required to bring us together.

Enter Mark Zukerberg, Harvard Sophomore and future billionaire. After beginning his nascent website in 2003 (from his dorm room) as a social network for Ivy League students only, it was only a matter of time before the burgeoning entrepreneur realized the potential of his new creation. Originally called "The Facebook," one received immediate cache upon invitation, in the early days at least. A world away from MySpace's free-for-all webpage design structure, "Facebook" (the "the" was dropped early on) was a clean, organized way to present your internet identity to the world. Once the site went fully mainstream, accessible to any and everyone, it vanquished it's rivals, dominating the social networking market to this day. Overnight Zukerberg's elitist online club became a social force to rival Google.

So why? What is it about Facebook? How did an elitist online club for Ivy-League brats turn into the most important trend of the decade? As in comedy the answer is always: timing, timing and timing. The world of social networking was being explored as far back as AOL Member Profiles (Remember those?) and the early aughts proved a viable crucible for competing design schemes and website structures. In retrospect it should have been clear to all media barons that Social Networking was bound to become a central part of social reality in the 21st Century and yet the major Internet tech companies like Google and Microsoft offered little in this format. Social Networking, thank God, was left to the amateurs and entrepreneurs. It was just a matter of which site found the secret ingredients to provide the most viable and addictive service. The alchemy of Internet success in this arena was, as yet, a mystery. The turning point was when Facebook opened up it's website to open-source 3rd-party applications, facilitating all manner of programs and services on the site. Sure, most of these applications ended up annoying users, like the ubiquitous "poking" applications, but overall the business plan was steady and open to endless improvement. In short order, Facebook went from an alternative social network for those outside the MySpace universe to the only viable convergence point of social networking on the Internet.

Facebook has become as much a place as a website. A nexus of actual identity and web persona, Facebook is both a representation of a person's external self and a subjective representation of their own sense of identity. Online chats, wall commentary, photo tagging, private messaging - all have become as substantial as most corporeal interchanges between persons, the virtual realm asserting itself as not merely a supplement to "real" interaction but a full-on replacement of it.

A person's Facebook page is a delicate destination. A locus of personal thoughts and feelings as articulated by a user's myriad preferences in books, movies and television shows, Facebook is also a repository for evidence about an individual's social side, with endless tagged photographs of a subject bleary-eyed at drunken parties or other such embarrassing candid moments. As the site has grown to dominate its market Facebook's users (meaning about everyone) have only grown to rely on the site more and more. Reading one's friends one-line status updates with the ferocity of a Talmudic scholar, one's social connections are as virtual now as they are real. Were are not replacing the real, merely expanding it's boundaries. This expansion, the dissolution of borders between actual and virtual identity, is the aughts' greatest legacy. A legacy that will only continue to grow and expand as our technology further blurs our knee-jerk notions about reality and the way in which we interact with it and each other.

Facebook was the victor in the aughts' battles of social networking. The site is a crossroads for all travelers to swap stories and exchange ideas, to post photos and update one's "stutus," which, when considered existentially, is quite an update to make on a daily basis. Facebook is now embedded in the very texture of contemporary society; to not be a part of it is to withdraw in some extent from modernity itself, so sweeping is the influence of Zukerberg's creation.

And for these myriad reasons we find Facebook the aughts' most influential and important trend. Now excuse me while I update my profile with the news.

You AUGHT to remember.

4 comments:

  1. Another fine entry! I'm going to miss this blog. Thanks for all your hard work! :)

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