Wednesday 6 July 2011

A huge gathering - good or bad?

We are blogging about ‘gatherings’ this week and I’m going to talk about some problems that I’ve got with the biggest gathering the world has ever seen – Facebook. I’m working on a new web system for Freegle so that we can offer a much better service and some people have said that the only way forward is to run it on Facebook. I’ve never had much enthusiasm for Facebook but I do have an account and occasionally glance at what my friends have seen fit to inform the world about. However I can’t accept that Facebook is the only way to communicate with people, there are lots of sites outside of Facebook – this blog for instance!

I’m not going into the technical pros and cons of writing FB apps here but the debate did lead me to consider whether FB is just the harmless bit of fun that I had previously considered it to be. It is expected that FB will soon float on the stock market with an asking price of $100bn – that is a huge amount of money for a company that produces nothing and is free to use. A valuation of $100bn implies an expected annual revenue of $10bn or roughly $10 a head for each of the billion users that FB is expected to recruit soon. That revenue will come from advertising products and as I suspect that many FB users are like me and completely blind to adverts then someone is going to have to do a lot of spending on our behalf to give advertisers a return.

So a huge amount of money is going to be invested (much of it on behalf of ordinary people by their pension funds and other investments) so that people can be exposed to yet more pressure to consume more goods. How many CSA schemes could you set up with 100bn Elena? Another thing that worries me about FB and the web in general is that it encourages people to exist in a virtual world – out of touch to what is happening around them in nature and in the fields that grow their food. Of course the web gives us great powers to communicate but it needs to be balanced with the real world gatherings that Simeon and Charlotte have talked about where people actually get their hands dirty and create real things.

So is FB a force for good or for bad? What do you think?


  1. "How many CSA schemes could you set up with 100bn"
    Roughly a million. Which would grow vegetables for about 200 million people. Depending on how much you value your greens relative to telling the world where you've been on holidays, you can decide for yourself whether that compares favourably with a billion facebook accounts.

  2. I'm an avid Facebook user and an outdoorsy gatherer, but I do find it easy to spend a lot of time on Facebook and not enough time outside.

    What I think is great about Facebook: You can publish something to a large group of your friends all at once, show then what you're reading, invite them to events and make more people aware of what you're up to in the real world. I also love having debates with my friends about philosophical topics.

    What I don't like about facebook: Its constant changing, and the fact that it is a profit-driven company (or soon will be when floated) rather than socially-driven. There ought to be a more responsible revenue model than simply blanket advertising all their users.

  3. The thing that really strikes a chord with me here John is how easy it is to get sucked into a virtual world and lose contact with the living, breathing, physical planet which is actually the foundation of all our lives.

    So I think the balance you're talking about here is vital. Using the incredible tool of the web for communicating real things (not for escaping), and remaining aware of and connected to the real planet.

    I don't use facebook myself, but I agree with you and Simeon about the pushing of consumerism and the need for these things to be socially-driven.

    And I really liked this piece.