As a 20-year-old junior at Stanford I am both an everyday Facebook user and a summer intern at a software company. What I didn't realize is how Facebook and my work would collide. Facebook seems to be the current obsession of the business world with thirty-something business users joining all the time.
It seems these business users are joining Facebook not because everyone is on it, but because the cool people are on it. For these older users having a Facebook account actually has little to do with convenience, but instead it is a symbol, communicating to others that you keep up with the latest Internet trends. Yet the "cool people" on Facebook are, for the most part, college students. Why are these thirty-something web users rushing to keep up with college students?
As a Facebook "expert" I get asked: "what Facebook apps do you use?" "why not just email instead of using Facebook messages?" I do my best to answer and sometimes wonder just what it is about Facebook that has so captured the minds of numerous thirty-somethings.
For this generation of thirty-something web users much of their business marketability has come from being web-literate, young, and in touch with the latest Internet trends. As a new generation joins the work force who is younger and learned to use a computer before they learned how to ride a bike the value of the thirty-somethings is slowly changing from youth and knowledge of current trends to experience. I suspect that many who try to join Facebook to prove their youth are instead finding that it makes them feel old.
I think ultimately in the quest to turn Facebook towards business uses, there may be a misunderstanding of the real way Facebook is used by the college students who make up the majority of its users. Facebook has always been, or at least felt like, a private and eminently personal world for college students. It is a place to showcase things you'd really rather your boss and coworkers did not see -- pictures from the latest party (think kegger, not cocktail), a less-than-PG YouTube video, your recent break-up, and numerous communications complaining about those who, up until now, were Facebook outsiders.
So how is this to meld with work uses? Uncomfortably. I've seen many a post from Facebook friends complaining bitterly about some aspect of their summer jobs -- something they could not do if their boss was on Facebook. I was friended by one of my higher-ups at work and, of course I accepted, but as soon as I did I became a little less comfortable with the privacy of the Facebook world. What business users sometimes forget is that accepting friendship means access not just to contact information, but access to my personal world. Should I be deleting any pictures that aren't office friendly or can I assume that a co-worker would understand that it would be uncouth to browse through all my Facebook pictures? Do I want my coworkers to know if I post something at 2AM? These questions worried me and I suspect the same will happen to all my peers as they are forced to meld Facebook with business.
I am certainly not the first person to deal with this problem, as illustrated by the Wall Street Journal video "Friended' by Your Boss."
Once, I almost changed my status during a downtime in the work day to something akin to "Megan is bored at work" but then quickly stopped myself, realizing that was not something I wanted to share with the office. What the business world is missing is that we don't want to mix Facebook with business. I don't want to be Facebook friends with my boss. I want Facebook to be entirely personal. So ultimately no matter how many business application get designed, they will meet resistance from a generation who would rather not have their business contacts see their college escapades.
Then again, maybe I'm being too closed-minded. If nothing else, Facebook has certainly proved its ability to evolve. But in order for these two worlds to meet Facebook will need to change to accommodate both desires. My suggestion is that Facebook should allow users to set up two profiles -- a business profile and personal profile. Then the user could choose which friends are business friends and which are personal. Each profile could be completely personalized so users can choose exactly what they want to show to each -- and I'm betting for most of my generation the two profiles would be drastically different. Whatever is done, I am certainly interested in how this conflict between business and personal will be resolved.