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So, what is Facebook? September 16, 2008

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, Digital, Social Media.
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Facebook T-shirt, originally uploaded by BeFitt.

Is it a social networking website or a social utility?
Facebook says it’s the latter and not the former.

The recent controversy over the Facebook application PackRat had a company spokesperson say in an email to a deleted user that “FB accounts are meant to reflect mainly “real-world” contacts rather than mainly “internet-only” contacts”. (Let your Facebook friend list decide what side of this policy you are on). The mail went on to say that Facebook’s mission is to help reinforce pre-existing social connections, not build large groups of new ones.

In a response to Michael Arrington, Facebook later played down its earlier statement and clarified its stand by saying that it encouraged users to maintain single accounts only for authentic usage and expected users to add people that reflects their real-world connections and create trusted networks, and not indulge in unsolicited contact.

I’m totally against unsolicited contact on FB, and using it just to accumulate a mass of “friends”, just for the sake of collecting them. But what really makes me wonder is Facebook’s smart play of words between “social networking website” and “social utility”. How is a social networking website distinct from a social utility? Doesn’t the utility of Facebook lie in the networking capabilities it offers?

May be Facebook really doesn’t get it that for a lot of users it is a social networking website that is a utility by helping them connect with friends, acquaintances and strangers in both real and virtual worlds, with different engagement and involvement levels.

It’s kind of dumb to call the elephant a hippo just because it likes to wallow a lot in the mud pond, right?