Behind Facebook's megavaluation: the generational divide lurks
The teenagers among our friends and family at New Year were fascinated and flabbergasted that I am on Facebook. "Paul is on Facebook!" one nudged the other, also displaying slight consternation that I had played Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Because their parents do not know what any of this means, they assume that nobody above the age of 25 does.
Also, having taken professional-standard shots of them surfing in the freezing ocean on New Year's Day, I now find they do not want these posted on Facebook, even on a friends/family basis, because they consider the waves to have been too lame.
It's a kind of reverse generational digital divide: young teenagers live almost exclusively on Facebook but only have teenage friends. They are almost totally unaware of the networks of the adult members of their family and do their best to stay out of contact with them. They do not need email apps or chat apps - they do it all on FB. They would rather crop a JPEG on FB than use Photoshop. Yes they will have your surplus Word and Powerpoint registration keys but no thanks they do not want Outlook and frown at the idea of what it is for.
Meanwhile the grown-up internet trend of 2011 will continue to be Twitter. I was named #22 in the top 100 "twittering bloggers" recently and it's interesting how much of the conversation has migrated to Twitter. The problem with blog comment lines is that they get overwhelmed by a small number of people who want to go on about their own obsessions, sometimes called "trolls". Whereas with Twitter there is a more democratic outcome: if what you say is worthy of being repeated it will be re-tweeted and discussed by many others; if not, it won't be.
If I do a quick New Year's "audit" of my networks they are as follows: Facebook: 964 people, about 1/3 of whom I actually know; Twitter: 7,784 followers and I follow 100 people. I am strictly limiting my follows to 100, and editing them regularly - and I would say this is the "network" I most value because it is mainly other journos, politicos and the occasional complete stranger whose tweets tend to reflect the zeitgeist. As for my blog, the BBC finds it hard to tell me how many hits it gets, but as it is buried here among the Newsnight pages I am assuming it's a minority sport.
Now the good news for Mark Zuckerberg is that the only clamour coming from the 8, 9 and 10 year old younger brothers and sisters of the Facebook teens is: Facebook, Facebook, Facebook! The bad news is that if I, as an adult professional who has been a bleeding-edger with social media since it started, had to lose one thing in my online life it would be Facebook. Blogging is not going to die, though it will morph: it is too vital a feeder stream to the new publishing, to the "revolution in reading" as one senior media executive put it recently. Twitter is, as I have said before, an ideal news medium. The missing thing in my networked life is a iPad/Galaxy-only newspaper - but Rupert Murdoch is about to put this right.
So kids, do not worry: despite shelling out a large amount of money for my 400mm lens and still more for a camera that can take surfing shots at an ISO speed of 6400, capturing the individual droplets of surf as they fall, I will not be posting any shots of you surfing - and soon I may get out of your Facebook life altogether.