There’s a very nice little article in Wired this month about Facebook’s plans to rule the world. It’s got lots of details about things like Facebook Connect and about the hubris-filled and cocksure Mark Zuckerberg. What got me thinking most, however, was this chestnut:
For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search.
It’s one of those nice journalistic object lessons which seems to sum it all up at the exact moment that all of its assumptions leak out of the edges: that the Web must be one thing, that one must gain knowledge either from machines or people, that our circle of friends is “our” primary source of information, that we use facebook to get information or that its CEO’s vision maps onto its practices; and so forth.
But there is something crystalline about this. There is a change at work here, a kind of parochialization in process. The metrics of trust embodied by Google are a set of ideals grounded in the idea of a vast library, a global brain, “the world’s information” and the Internet as a vast sea of computable texts and actions; those of Facebook are ideals of human contact, facefulness, recognition, mimicry, identity management, constant contact, powerful control over one’s identity, social network and reputation, self-actualization. Google is dominated by an ethic of information openness in which more is better, because it makes it easier to comb through collect, sort and analyze data. The more open data is, the better your analysis of it will be. Facebook is dominated by something like an ethic of “revealed preferences”–the only information that matters is information tied to a autocthonous system that gives it meaning. Parochialize your Internet; re-embody your avatar. On Facebook, everyone knows you’re a beautiful and well-bred dog. On the capitalist side, this all comes down to how your information will be commodified: facelessly and anonymously, but with possible benefit for a general public (though that public is a geo-politically fraught one with fault lines called China and Saudi Arabia) or facefully and behaviorally targeted commodification, with maximum benefit for the social graph you make and belong to. If we want to talk about intentional communities today, let’s start here: with the automatic co-creation of consumer profiles. The war to make our own demography starts here.