Criticality

Henry Farrell pointed out this week that Facebook seemed to have hit a point of phase transition somewhere in the last couple of months, broadening rapidly beyond undergraduate and graduate students.

I created a page this last autumn when I realized that the most interesting discussion of a local controversy here on campus was happening inside of Facebook and I would have to have my own page to read the discussion. A couple of students and alumni noticed, I got a couple of friend notifications, and I didn’t pay that much attention to the site beyond that. Social networking of this kind has always been something I’ve been glad to read about from other scholars and writers.

Then in the last two months, I started getting more and more friend notifications from colleagues, and, well, friends, and at an accelerating pace. I started messing around with the site, occasionally sending a friend request to other people. Since Henry posted at Crooked Timber, I’ve seen a really rapid densification of the networks that I’m connected to, and I’ve been initiating a bunch of friend requests as well as I’ve suddenly realized that quite a few people in my extended professional and personal world are on Facebook, many of them only just recently. I ported over some of my Flickr pictures as well.

I don’t think it’s the only way that major online hubs of activity can grow or succeed, but it does seem to be one major established pattern. You’re around for a while, you’ve got some core users, you add some nice functionality, there’s a slow push to some kind of criticality, and then suddenly BLAM, it’s like sharks on chum.

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One Response to Criticality

  1. djeater says:

    The strength of Facebook is its versatility. I had a colleague who died suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago. Distraught with grief, I wanted to do something to express how bereft we all felt. Meanwhile, I changed my status on Facebook to say that I was in mourning for Trevor, and students started to contact me via Facebook, to ask what had happened to him. I realised that the best thing I could do would be to set up a Facebook group where people could leave tributes. It has attracted scores of members and some wonderful comments from students and friends, which have been a source of comfort for all who knew him. I’m really grateful that Facebook was available to provide a focus for our mourning.

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