My friend Paco Velilla once said that "Nobody is as ugly as in his ID picture, nor as handsome as in his Facebook profile picture". This quote certainly conveys a facet of Facebook: we all try to look good, or maybe just give the best image of ourselves, in "the" social network.
So what's all this Facebook mania about? Why do 500 million people in the world have a Facebook account? These questions were keeping me company as I was coming back home after watching The Social Network, a supposedly reliable depiction of the origins of Facebook - and the ugly things his creator, Mark Zuckerberg, did on the way.
Basic and foremost this webpage is about sharing. Even its fiercest critics must admit that Facebook offers wonderful possibilities of communicating with people and telling them about oneself - what you think, how you feel, what music you like, or even what you're doing right now, live. This is especially great when the people you care about are far away, and you can't just give them a call and meet in half an hour.
But let's face it. Facebook wasn't born to keep in touch with your mom or with that friend you made while you were traveling in Bolivia. In my case, it has never crossed my mind to suggest my parents to create themselves an account to know more about me now that an ocean separates us. Maybe it's because I don't want them to see that picture my "good" pal has tagged where you can see me far beyond tipsy in a New York joint.
Therefore, there must be other reasons why a staggering 1 in 12 human beings have a Facebook account. The Social Network talks about that. As a matter of fact, that's the very explanation of the creature's origin. One night of February 2004 Mark Zuckerberg was dumped, deservedly dumped, by his last date - a clever girl that realized that Mark was obsessed about social success, college fraternities and the like. Part as a revenge and part as a way to show off that he could do something "big" or, in other words, to get attention, that very same night he created an application in which guys could compare the degree of Harvards' girls "hotness" - yeah, quite cheesy, but effective: in 4 hours 450 people checked 22.000 pictures. Zuckerberg profited to disseminate nasty comments about his frustrated date; a pathetic and sad reaction.
And here we have our first cause of Facebook's success: pure gossip. The guys that surfed Facemash (Facebook's embryo) that night of 2004 didn't just want to see hot girls - they could arguably do that in other Internet sites, and with hotter pics ;-) - they wanted to see the pictures of girls they knew. Facebook feeds from that idea and takes it to a higher level: users get to see not just pictures, but all that information that I previously said users want to express: feelings, political beliefs, literary likes, and most important - their relationship status! And they get that information not just from close friends and relatives (who has 300 friends and relatives?), but from people they have just met. That's probably the key of its success: Facebook users open up their privacy, allowing recent acquaintances to delve into their pictures, experiences, in short, into their lives, at pleasure.
You may be thinking that this is a little bit far fetched, as many of us won't publish really relevant information in our Facebook profiles. That's a fair point, but think for a moment: would you show a guy that has just been introduced to you the pictures of your last romantic trip with your girlfriend? Probably not, and yet the next day when you receive his friend's request - let's say he's a college mate of a buddy of yours - you won't hesitate much in accepting it.
Hence, the next question is quite obvious: why do we do that? Why are we so easily letting people encroach in our privacy? I suggest two answers. I already gave the first one, albeit implicitly: because the only way to check someone's Facebook account...is having a Facebook account! I bet you the astonishing figures of users would be much less impressive if you could just access the information without previously offering your own in exchange - quid pro quo, as the old saying goes.
As to the second one, that's where my pal's quote will give us a hint: we are in Facebook not only to show, but to show off; not only to exhibit, but because of the exhibitionist in us. We want the world to think that we are "as handsome as in our profile picture", that we read a classic every once in a while or that nobody parties like us. In other words, we need attention as Zuckerberg - hopefully a little bit less - needed it.
What's the difference then between communicating and bragging? The limits are hazy. Ascertaining it is as difficult as knowing when a blogger is sharing ideas or just pretending he has something interesting to say... In the end, the answer is only in the reader - and in the Facebook user.