How the social networking platform has attained cult status worldwide. SUDHIR SYAL reports
“You just got poked”, “Your friend just threw a Sheep at you”. “You’ve been bitten by the Vampire”; at first use, the ‘Social Networking’ platform Facebook does seem like a whole number of things, a virtual war-zone, a juvenile hang-out or a criminal waste of time. What is it then about Facebook which has seen it attain cult popularity in India and across the world, popularity which translates into 20 billion minutes of usage every month, a valuation of approximately 15 billion dollars and addictive usage by young and old alike?
As hardcore users would swear, the site’s strength lies in its neat design and interface, a ‘news feed’ which keeps users updated on their friends’ activities, and a nifty photo tag feature which has made it the most widely used photography site in the world.
The site was started by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, then a student at the Harvard Law School. Zuckerberg initially opened it out only to the students of Harvard enabling them to connect and share notes. It soon spread to other Ivy League schools. About a year or so later, like with so many other technology stories, Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to run the site full-time. By then Facebook had already become the ‘in’ thing in college and school campuses. In September 2006, it was opened to the public the response was phenomenal. Take Kunal Daswani for instance, an amateur photographer based in Chennai, who owes his new-found fame as a photographer to Facebook. He tells us: “I uploaded a few photographs I had taken of my friends onto the site, they began to use them as their profile pictures and soon an entire group was formed around it. Now the group has over 300 members, and a number of people who’ve noticed my work have contacted me for freelance photography assignments.”
Facebook sometimes stretches to the totally unexpected, like in the case of Minal Kriplani, a professional baker and confectionary maker in Chennai. She remembers, “I once lost a baking dish and couldn’t figure out who had borrowed it, I logged onto Facebook and updated my ‘status’. Hardly a few hours later, a friend read my status, realised she had my dish and I got it back!”
Another big differentiator between Facebook and other platforms is the open platform which allows developers to create applications and make revenue through advertising on the site. There are over 200,000 of them which allow users to do various things such as take quizzes, play card games and review movies. The game ‘Scrabulous’ is popular among them. Other popular Indian applications are an Orkut application created by software developer Jeetendra Mirchandani which allows users to log onto the competing social networking site Orkut or the ‘I think’ application developed by Internet firm Minekey which allows users to share their thoughts with others on varied topics. In many ways, Facebook has changed the way the world has perceived social networking. Like with most cults and addictions, it does have its detractors too who believe that a lot of activity is meaningless, others believe there is a loss of privacy. But the positives far outweigh the negatives, so much so a Facebook profile is soon becoming like a passport on the Internet. If you haven’t got the question already, brace yourself for it — “Are you on Facebook?”