I remember the first time I ever heard of Facebook. I was donning my cap and gown and preparing to walk at my high school graduation. Pomp and Circumstance bellowed off the bricks nearby. Over the din, a friend shouted that his older brother had something called The Face Book, and that “everyone was in it.”
His brother was a meaty metalhead (and consequently a personal hero of mine) so I figured it was some sort of creepy cultish leather tome with yellowed pages and predictions about how each one of us would inevitably meet our untimely, grisly demise. I was wrong – that was Craigslist. But, like so many cripplingly insecure and regularly unwashed college freshman boys, I joined it anyway, and it soon changed – even became – my life.
This was ages ago – long before the first Rick had ever been Rolled – and it was a very different website then. There were no photos, no groups, and no messages – just a profile picture, interests, and a wall. Students could not friend students at other colleges. In fact, most colleges weren’t on Facebook. In retrospect, it was a primitive and dim space to socialize, not unlike a hipster bar in an NYC bomb shelter, or Olympic Stadium in Montreal (poor Youppi!).
It’s been a little over four years since then. And though I still can’t grow a decent beard, oh how the times have changed!
Facebook now has over 300 million members. Over 80 billion photos have been uploaded, and over 600,000 are viewed every minute. Brody Ruckus has given way to Billabong. Like a scruffy college graduate who has somehow managed to bluff his way into a real job, Facebook has hit the big time, and now actually gets taken seriously.
And for good reason too. All organizations – profit or nonprofit, private or public – require human capital to produce their goods or spread their message. We’re all people powered, and sites like Facebook are our cold fusion. When asked why he robbed banks, diminutive miscreant Willie Sutton replied “because that’s where the money is.” Well, organizations love Facebook (and other social network sites) because that’s where the people are.
So starting today, you’ll see a “Share on Facebook” link at the bottom of every blog entry. By clicking this link, you may choose to publish the article to the News Feed of your five thousand closest Friends on Facebook. Everybody wins. Your Friends will see cool content they may have never stumbled across otherwise. You get to be the dude or dudette who provides the hook-up. And we get to spread our message to people who might otherwise never have seen it.
That’s why they call it “social media” – because it is animated by and conducted within our preexisting social circles. But within this promise of social media lies its peril.
We know that even if you love MIT, you may not want MIT to be where your friends are, jumping in where it is isn’t wanted like that awkward kid in high school who invited himself over to your house and would let himself in and begin eating your Cheetos while loudly criticizing your Tekken techniques. And we want to respect your wishes, even if you ARE a certifiable moron for going with the Armor King over Ganryu.
But it’s not that simple, because we don’t know what your wishes are. Some studies show that prospective students prefer for school to contact them via Facebook. Others suggest that students prefer email for these sorts of inquiries, and would like for Spam U. to let them Farmville in peace. We also know that different students use different social spaces online, and that no one site represents all the students we might like to speak with.
The best way for MIT to achieve the potential of these social sites is for y’all to guide us around their pitfalls. Our new “Share” links are relatively unproblematic and uncontroversial, and I hope you will use them (perhaps even on this post!) However, as we move forward, we’ll be looking to you (collectively) for guidance. What social spaces do you use when you’re thinking about, researching, or discussing college applications? What social activities or practices (apps, chats, pages, etc) would you like to see more of? Would you play an MIT Farmville or Mafia Wars, and would you share it with your friends who’d never thought of MIT because they’d find it fun too?
I actually do believe in viral marketing, which is to say that I believe promotions can be as fun to experience as they are effective at messaging. But here at the Admissions Office, we’re all (sadly, even myself) old fogeys, and the only “hip” thing for us is the prosthetic kind. So tell me, what could we create in the crowdsourced Web 2.0 blogosphere networked public buzzword universe that would be fun, educational, and social for you?