Facebook — Meaningless statistics and social mayhem

Friends or Just Stragers Passing ByMark Zuckerberg just released a newsletter claiming that Facebook now has 1 billion active users.   In a related fact sheet, Facebook breaks down demographics about its users as well as key statistics about these users, most of which will make your head swim.

My mother is visiting me this week.    She has a Facebook account and more than 20 Facebook friends.  This makes her, to borrow from boxing parlance, bantamweight, since according to Facebook in July 2010, users signing up for Facebook had an average of 305 friends.

I don’t have 305 friends, and, frankly, I don’t think that I know 305 people.   Perhaps that should not worry me since Steve Hofstetter had 200,000, or so, friends on Facebook before his account had to be flushed.  Who is Steve Hofstetter, you ask….  Just another guy on a quest for more Facebook friends.

My mother, by the way, doesn’t know who most of her Facebook friends are.   She uses Facebook for playing mindless, free computer games (a la Zynga’s grand experiment in eroding the world’s productivity with its cookie-cutter approach to gaming,) has never paid a dime to Facebook or any of its affiliates or associates, largely find the advertisements to be inappropriate and annoying, tends to mindlessly accept any friend request that she gets, and — importantly — has never made a friend request.   Also, most of the friend requests that she received were related to the computer games and the underlying motivation for the originators of the requests appear to be the accumulation of game tokens or game status.

The average of 305 friends, Steve Hofstetter’s quest, and my mother’s use of Facebook do raise a number of questions about Facebook’s business model, I think.

Assuming, for instance, that my mother’s use of Facebook is not abnormal for her age-group, then she represents a group that never will be meaningful for Facebook in economic terms — I can assure you that my mother will never buy anything using Facebook, and Facebook’s knowledge of my mother is too superficial for the advertisements to be sufficiently meaningful for her to make purchasing decisions based on them.

Furthermore, assuming that Steve Hofstetter is not unique in his quest, then by math alone, the bragging right number of 305 friends per users have to be examined very carefully — yes, I realize that there now is some sort of limit on the number of friends, 5,000 I think, but the point still stands

Finally, if, as hundreds of friends imply, the connections to Facebook friends is no more tangible than the connections that you make to a stranger  that you pass on the street, then the entire Facebook model starts looking really shaky to me.  Put in another way… to me the user number is, well… useless, and the trailing friend concept is equally meaningless.

I think that it is clear that Facebook recognizes that there is a problem (as does the market, it would appear,) and is struggling with coming up with a  solution.   However, whether the solution is classified as a like concept (now just as obsolete as the  friends concept, I think) or the latest or greatest, the promote concept, the fact is that it is all about trying to create a meaningful connection within or on top of  the now completely meaningless user count and friends concept, and, so it raises the question why Facebook keeps bragging about users and their friends.  What should be important, I think, is how many real Facebook users are on the service and how many true connections are made, because it is real users and true connections that generate revenues.

Scratch that. In fact, I think the metric that matter is related to whether or not the connection between two people is strong enough that they are willing to give each other some relatively trivial amount of money without any strings attached (say $2.50 in the U.S. and $0.25 in a developing country.) I am pretty sure that if that metric was applied to Facebook’s connection, the average number of friends on Facebook would rapidly sink towards the single digits. Perhaps Steve Hofstetter’s grand experiment should be an attempt to friend the maximum number of Facebook users with the caveat that a friend connection could only be made if a trivial payment was made to Mr. Hofstetter at the same time.

Just saying…..