New column: My friends on Facebook

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My new column is about Facebook, and it’s in the issue of Time with a glass of Scotch (or is it bourbon? or rye? or colored water?) on the cover and online here. It begins:

I knew something significant was up when, a couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail notifying me that a long-ago boss had added me as a “friend” on Facebook. This was a genuine grownup with an important and time-consuming job (that is, not a magazine writer). And here he was, asking me to be his social-networking buddy.

A lot of the things that grownups already do on the Internet, from blogging to participating in PTA newsgroups to mass e-mailing bad jokes to friends and family, could be described as social networking. The term is applied mainly, though, to the services that enable users to collect and communicate with a network of “friends.” Friendster was the first, in 2002. The rise of these outfits has been one of the great business and societal stories of recent years. Americans now spend more time on MySpace, which was founded in 2004 and has supplanted Friendster, than on any other domain, including Google.

Up to now, though, this has been a game for the kids. Yes, lots of politicians and musicians and other adults have MySpace pages. But MySpace sees its core market as people in their 20s. Hardly anybody of my acquaintance (I’m 43 and don’t know a lot of politicians or musicians) hangs out there. I do know lots of people on LinkedIn, a business-networking site. But LinkedIn is about finding jobs and making deals and getting answers to business questions. It’s not a place to while away your days. Read more.

Regular readers of this blog will notice some familiar themes, as well as a reference to a certain sometime commenter from Australia. Also, the argument at the end of the column that, on Facebook, “friends don’t drift apart,” was entirely inspired by regular commenter Paul Lukasiak. I wanted to credit him in the column, but couldn’t find any way to do it that wouldn’t have involved adding about a paragraph of explanation. So I’m adding the footnote here.

And while I’m footnoting, the stat about MySpace commanding more of American Internet users’ time than any other site comes from Compete.com. The Murdoch quote came at the very end of this Wall Street Journal interview. I’m not saying who my long-ago boss is/was (what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook, sort of). And I’ll post a transcript of my interview with Marc Andreessen and his Ning comrade Gina Bianchini later today.

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