Breaking Out Of Facebook's Walled Garden

According to PEW, 27% of us are looking to wean ourselves off the Facebook habit.

This is not particularly surprising. While Facebook can be incredibly distracting, it’s not really relevant to our lives. It has never been woven into the fabric of our day-to-day activities. It’s more like an awkward, albeit entertaining, interlude jammed into the long list of stuff we have to do today. That list represents our life. Facebook represents the stuff that lies on the periphery.

Here’s one way to think about it. What if Facebook went down today? Would it really matter? Sure, it might be a disappointment, but would it make us substantially change our plans?

Now consider if Google went down for the day. How many times in a day would you got to use it, then curse because it wasn’t there?

The problem is that our online social interactions are outgrowing the walled garden that is Facebook. It has failed to become essential in the way that Google has. I can go entire months without logging into my Facebook account. I have trouble going an hour without using Google. And when I need Google, I need it now.

Again, I turn to how we use language as a clue as to how we feel about things. To “search” is a verb. It’s an action that connects intents with outcomes. It’s something we have to do. And, if you’re loyal to Google as your search engine, it’s pretty easy to swap “googling” for “searching” and for everyone to know exactly what you mean.

But what, I ask, is social? It’s not a verb. It’s not even a noun. It’s an adjective, to describe someone or something.  If I told you I “Facebooked” someone, you probably wouldn’t know what I meant. And that’s an important distinction. “Social” is tied to who we are. It isn’t tied to any single destination. Social travels with us.

When Facebook came on the scene, it did do a good job of showing us how online could be used to keep better track of our extended social networks. But now there are other ways to do that. An informal poll by Macquarie Securites also found that Instagrams are a quickly growing way to connect, especially among Facebook’s core market of 18- to 25-year-olds.  

Facebook can’t own social in the same way Google can own search. We own social, because we are social. And we will use multiple tools to allow us to be social.

Facebook envisioned a social ecosystem that could then be monetized with targeted advertising. But as the PEW study points out, Facebook just couldn’t contain all our social activity. Many of us are thinking that we should probably spend less time on Facebook, as we find other ways to connect online. While Facebook has never been essential, it now also risks becoming irrelevant.

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4 comments about "Breaking Out Of Facebook's Walled Garden".
  1. shelah johnson from TrailerChix Productions , February 7, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.
    Not sure the title supported the content. As an opinion piece it works until you start speaking to a business person. It would have been good to provide some data (FB Vs Google = apples and bananas) to support your ideas and point readers to a possible alternative communication channel. I do agree with you however, and have always felt FB superficial and time will determine its validity in the business world.
  2. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations , February 7, 2013 at noon
    Gord, I'm a huge fan of yours - consistently one of the most insightful, and occasionally profound, business writers I follow. But this piece I (mostly) disagree with you. "Social" isn't a noun, but "network" and "connection" are. It's true that FB can't "own" social the way Google owns search (although if Google went down I'd just switch to Bing), and there are multiple social networks emerging. But you can't participate in all of them (a lot of people reading this may try but we are not typical), so for your broadest circle of friends and acquaintances (more personal than business in my case), Facebook is like the public square, with other networks/nodes all doors that line the perimeter. Another metaphor: Facebook is the crossroads of social networks. Sure, we could argue about whether Facebook the business is more vulnerable than Google, but to my mind it's crossed the event horizon and is now really the center of a constellation of networks. That's not easy to displace..and would require epic mismanagement by Zuck & Co to achieve.
  3. Andre Szykier from maps capital management , February 7, 2013 at 12:06 p.m.
    Agree with TrailerChix comment. Google = Search (verb) FB = (engage, meet, share, comment (verbs) social = (property of e.g. FB) One other point, all these sites act as walled gardens. Ideally what you need is a social-of-1 point (individual or entity) that connects to all other social-of-one points (entities). What you have is a one-to-many virtual network. This technology exists and is a perfect service provided by a cloud. The problem is connecting the content from my social walled gardens into a virtual cloud point. Google+ is going about it a different way. They keep expanding their walled garden with search, mail, video, chat services along with social and app services that they provide, hoping you eventually will find their garden big and rich enough so everybody will migrate. While it helps them be the CyBorg of data, it makes people more uneasier to have all of that in one garden than spread across many. Time will tell which model will thrive.
  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , February 7, 2013 at 6:35 p.m.
    Yay ! FB and other anti social networks have increased denigration of respect and probably have done more damage on the overall than helped on the overall. If, a very big word, there was a demarcation line to where people can express opinions and share information without insults, lies and disgust, then we as far as humanity is concerned could build a social contract. Can't see it happening for laundry lists of reasons.