For many engineers, Facebook isn't news.
After all, facebook as of this writing hosts 520 engineering organizations as diverse as the Roller Coaster Engineers to Engineers without Borders, Manitoba Chapter. And biggies like the IEEE with its 2,845 fans are there, too. By the time you read this, those numbers will almost certainly have grown.
Facebook, once the exclusive domain of teeny boppers and college students, has morphed into a life force for professionals. I started an account two months ago and it quickly reconnected me with work contacts from as far back as 25 years ago. These are people I would not otherwise communicate with again if it were not for facebook, which bills itself as a “social utility”. The long-term payoff for me is still uncertain, but I have thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with old news sources and friends (190 so far and more seem to come out of the woodwork every day). And because I covered high technology for many years, past and present colleagues seem to be drawn to it and most have made it a habit.
Facebook became a professional utility almost two years ago when it added work networks to what until then had just been schools. That watershed event exploded the numbers. Since the end of 2006, facebook has grown from 12 million members to 70 million. To be counted, each member had to visit the site once in the past 30 days. Facebook claims more than 20,000 applications with 140 new ones popping up every week. Most are applets and are fun related, but the number growing so fast speaks to the energy behind facebook. In November, it announced it would sell ads and it may have the momentum and scale to challenge Google. Someone has to, but no serious challengers have stepped forward. And I have yet to see many ads on facebook.
Comparisons are often made to LinkedIn, which in my view is no contest for facebook. The way I explain it is that LinkedIn is a contact utility or relationship manager. Facebook is more about content which is what Design News and I are all about. I also “twittered” asking my facebook friends — again 95 percent work colleagues — which one they preferred. I received four responses in two hours and facebook prevailed each time. Here are the highlights:
“I feel much better conversing on facebook with professionals. Plus, more venture and startup types are there.”
“I'm told that I haven't tapped into the full resources of LinkedIn, but I can't imagine it would offer the same functionality and entertainment (as facebook).”
“LinkedIn is people looking for jobs.”
The purpose of this column is not to criticize LinkedIn. After all, it claims 20 million professional users and is well-funded. Is there room for both? I don't think so long-term. Something new will come along and there may be room for neither. But for now, I love facebook even if my two college-age kids say my presence there is “creepy.” Hey, they friended me, not the other way around (read: Dad, send money). It's a good place for me. And it's a good place for engineers. Check out our groups: Mechatronics, Gadget Freak and Design News.
In the something completely unrelated department, we are looking for great stories about sensors. We'll publish contributed content as long as our guidelines are followed. Don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Facebook.