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I joined Facebook so you don’t have to…

Part of my job at Cornwell Internet is to keep an eye out for things which might be useful to our clients: ideas, sites, links, graphics. Yes, that’s partly an excuse for me to spend my work time surfing the net, but it’s also how we were able, for example, to set up Michael Jecks’s photo diary within budget: free photo-hosting site Flickr offered the features we needed.

So when I started receiving invitations to join Facebook, I clicked on through to the site to see what all the fuss was about. You can’t, in fact, do that: Facebook is a social networking site in the sense that it provides a facility for existing networks of friends to keep in touch, and you can’t see what it has to offer unles you sign up and start to contact people who are already your friends. I took a deep breath, and did that.

Six weeks later, what’s the verdict? Well, Facebook isn’t for me, and I don’t see any immediate application for our clients, either. I’ve heard people talk about Facebook as MySpace for grown-ups, but Myspace can be used to reach new people, as well as to keep in touch with people you already know; having a MySpace profile can be a form of viral marketing (in a good way!).

Facebook doesn’t do this. Writer Paul Cornell blogs in defence of Facebook, and points out quite fairly that it’s not a question of what Facebook can do for you, but what you can use Facebook to do for yourself. Even so, it’s only useful if a substantial proportion of the people you want to do it with also have Facebook accounts: otherwise, there are probably better ways of reaching them.

Monday’s Guardian carried an article about Facebook, attacking the site on a number of grounds, from the Luddite (“if I want to network with people, I’ll talk to them”) to the perfectly justified (“it’s all about gathering personal data and using it to target advertising”). If I were handing over money to Facebook, I might well be concerned that its founders have radical neoconservative ideas (though there are few big internet businesses whose politics I’d actually endorse). But the reason why I’m withdrawing from Facebook is simply that it has nothing to offer me.

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