IF Facebook were your friend, you would have noticed that in recent months it has changed status from “It’s Complicated” to “In a serious relationship and quite engaged.”
Over the years, Facebook has gone through the evolution you would expect of an American child. It kicked off as a platform for sharing photographs and quick bits of gossip. The first person I knew who enthused about it was a young girl I worked with whose excitement when she got onto Facebook in the office was so visible desks away I couldn’t believe her only contacts were the family she shared a home with.
She didn’t get into serious trouble with me or her other superiors simply because they didn’t really know how much of her time was going into Facebook, and I knew how to turn her away from it long enough to do the work expected of her.
From photo and status sharing, Facebook grew quite fast through a difficult adolescence where the playground bullies included the traditional hardware and software companies like Microsoft and the mobile phone companies, and even peer pressure pals like Google and Twitter.
Enjoying the status of ‘most popular kid in school’ came with all the challenges of fighting off the offers made by Twitter and Pinterest, and even the major onslaught of Google+ that sought to take away all Facebook’s friends – and there were MANY friends!
At one point, I also succumbed to the corporate pressure that had us denying people in our offices access to Facebook because it was threatening to collapse business by taking away ALL the attention of our staff from the work they were ostensibly paid salaries to do. If I had a way, back then, of making money from my workmates being on Facebook then I would have done so, but too many hours were spent on stuff that had not just zero, but negative commercial value to people like me!
The pressure on Facebook, meanwhile, had it drop that goody-goody tendency it had of switching nude photographs with photos of flowers, puppies and kittens, and the moral standards on the platform became lax. Still, like any teenager or youth or even adult, Facebook has never left the pornography lying around for anybody to find, so it would be impolite for us to dwell too much on it.
On its own, along the way, Facebook finished its school phase and went to work, going public and trading, while taking advantage of its advertising space. Plus, it kicked up a serious interest in politics, and began hosting political debates and got politicians joining to ‘reach the people’, which also worked for marketing purposes, and encouraged us to give our employees back their access at the office.
Today, it has stopped being just a gossip point for young people sharing photographs and updates of party exploits – it still does that bit quite well, of course, but now there are also more serious things going on there, and more and more people are joining it for that very purpose.
Those people who a few years ago proudly said things like, “I am not on Facebook. I don’t have time for such!” are now joining in large numbers because of the Groups forming there and what those groups offer.
In Uganda there are two groups in particular I belong to that present good proof of this – ‘The Backyard Gardener-Uganda’ and ‘Kampala Food Network’.
Both groups kicked off in the organic manner that most mature Facebook groups do – people of like mind with a shared interest meet and kick an idea about for a while (sometimes a matter of minutes, sometimes months) and then find that the easiest way to mobilise people is by Facebook.
Next, a thousand people are chatting away incessantly on a daily without serious supervision about stuff they are interested in or passionate about; and the interest and passion feeds on other people’s interest and passion so that everyone becomes more interested and passionate…and the cycle continues.
In the Groups, people give and get advice, tips and leads, and solve problems at a speed that was unimaginable just a couple of years ago. One of my Facebook ‘friends’ (name withheld for rather obvious reasons) is not even on Facebook! For now, he uses his wife’s page by asking her to ask the group for ideas and solutions – and in that way visits these two particular groups more than his wife does.
For people like him, Facebook is conducting a courtship, and as it has proved with more than one billion people, it will be successful.
The engagement will happen sooner than he thinks, and he will join the rest of us in trying for what we hope will be a “happily ever after” story.