Information flow on Facebook

Over the last few weeks I had several interesting experiences with the information flow on Facebook. It really amused me how this sometimes goes. Two examples:

– When the earthquake happened in California I knew it withing a few minutes despite me being in “far off” Africa. I got two status messages*, the first one mentioning that it happened, the second one giving even details about its strength. Shortly after I had another friend in California on the Facebook chat, who told me in more detail how it was for her, and that there is no damage on her house.

(*I have the “Facebook Toolbar for Firefox” installed. New status messages appear as pop up in the lower corner, and if I am fast enough I can read them before they disappear – unless the text is too long – without ever leaving the page or application where I am working at that moment.)

– One day a colleague across town mentioned in her status message that a heavy rain nearly spoiled the books they had just loaded onto an open pickup. I was surprised as it had not rained in my neighborhood. Through the comments that you can add now to the status message (when using the new Facebook layout), I discovered that there were even three rains that day on their side of town. The following day I noticed through a status message that another colleague could not go home on his bike because it was raining. Again, I was surprised as it did not rain in my area. Both places are approx 5 km (3 mi) from where I was. Without Facebook I would not have known. 😉

Not that this information are vital, but they help to connect people. There are even companies who use Facebook as their intranet (see interview about Serena’s use of Facebook). They found that the little status messages can help connect people working in different continents who rarely see each other:

“While pictures were the most requested feature of an Intranet at first, status updates quickly took precedence. At any given time I know as much about my colleagues as they want to share via Facebook (e.g. John B. from IT “is sucking on a Starbucks, yummy”, Scott O. from Sales “says don’t mind the smoke, its just my fingers dialing, Peter S. from Support “is gesturing evilly at the rain clouds).

So I now have context when I next speak to each of them. I actually need to call John about a project we are working on later today and I will bring up his Starbucks comment. Peter and I work together quite a bit and he is based in London, so having lived there recently I can commiserate with him about the weather.”

These status messages don’t give you deep insights but they keep people connected. Obviously, it does not take much to connect people. At least it is a starting point for going deeper. They certainly can lower the threshold for reconnecting. We all have experienced that it can take a lot of effort to reconnect with somebody from whom you have not heard for a long time.

The downside of Facebook – the more I am connected with friends on Facebook, the easier I forget to connect with friends who are not on Facebook. This is similar to when I started using e-mail a lot. I found (and still find) it a lot more difficult to keep up with those that do not have e-mail. Still, when I think back to times when I first arrived in Africa and there was no e-mail. Sometimes the answers to my letters took so long that they came at a time when the issue was no longer of interest. One easily felt disconnected from friends back home.

This is one reason for me to really enjoy Facebook and hope that more of my friends (on three continents) will join. 🙂