Free from the shackles of working for a competitor, I feel as if I can finally begin the process of speaking to my deep admiration for Facebook. Don’t get me wrong: I still love Google and I think Google+ is a great product whose full potential has yet to be realized. In addition, since Google+ was released I’ve seen Facebook become open in a way I had always hoped it would (not to say there isn’t more Facebook can do): as such, competition in the social space will only benefit us consumers and we should encourage it by testing new services and reminding the behemoths that, as Eric Schmidt says, competition is only a click away.
Having provided my caveat, I can now state that the reason I love Facebook goes back to my favourite quote from Marshall McLuhan, which is that “politics is the process of solving the problems of today with the tools of yesterday”(I’ll come back to this quote a lot). Facebook is a tool of today and indeed a tool of tomorrow, and its potential as a platform for revolutionizing the world is only beginning to reveal itself.
For example, if Facebook were a country it would be the 3rd most populous nation on the face of the earth (after India and China) and it has a growth rate would make a Pope proud. On the surface this may seem like an interesting but ultimately useless statistic. However, if you think about how we can leverage that population to take action the possibilities are endless.
Take climate change: I don’t think its controversial to say that governments (see Canada’s recent decision to pull-out of Kyoto) haven’t provided the leadership required to deal with the massive implications of CO2 emissions. Indeed, many industries, including the auto-industry, are far ahead of governments in terms of pushing the world towards Co2 reductions (yes, you could say that tougher fuel standards and volatility in the oil markets forced them to start investing more in reduced carbon-based engines, but ultimately they have to produce products that people want to buy).
What if in Facebook we developed an open carbon-market where people could buy and sell emissions. People like me who travel more than there fair share could buy carbon credits from kids in the Philippines who walk or take buses everywhere. Maybe these credits become official currency on Facebook, usable in everything from Farmville to Spotify.
Of course, every idea has its detractors, and I imagine that some would criticize this idea as too difficult to track and too easy to manipulate. Those, in my mind, are obstacles that are easy to overcome. The point is that through Facebook we can buy-pass our governments to promote change, as we have the ability to achieve virtual critical mass with very little effort. This is the ultimate power of Facebook. Rather than wait for our governments to take action, we can get together with our friends, our friends of friends, and our friends of friends of friends, and do whatever it is we see the need to get done.
I don’t mean to suggest that Facebook and other social networks make governments obsolete. Indeed, there is great potential for social networks to make governments open, stronger, and accessible to the people they serve. In the meantime, however, the more people begin to see Facebook as a means to create, maintain and promote offline communities, the more the people can begin to take initiative to solve global problems, instead of waiting for leadership which simply may not be coming.