Over the past 3 weeks or so, I've fallen for Facebook. It has continually impressed me with it's innovation, social design and growing dominance of its space. Facebook does a lot of things well, but the one thing that impresses me most is how it exposes the actions of my friends on the site. I can see it when Kris Krug joins a group or Duncan Rawlinson updates Twitter . It brings the online and public world of my friends closer to me.
I can't help but think about the whole idea of stocks and flows, borrowed from the field of systems dynamics. I wrote a series a while back about it - but the basic idea that online communication has two states - active and static. For instance, when a blog post is posted, it's active - it flows through the blogosphere, through rss readers, etc. After a while, it becomes archived and static - stocked for future reference. Online content flows and then becomes stocked.
We're surrounded by flows in the online world all the time - headlines, stock prices, web stats, weather, email - these all flow by us over the course of the day. Watching these flows is addicting - every day there is something new. In a lot of ways, it's all just news.
Will Pate recently asked about what makes social network sites (like facebook, flickr, etc.) addictive and I think it's related to the same flows that keep us wrapped up in the news. Only, in social networking, the news isn't coming from the stock market or the associated press, it's coming from your sister, or co-worker, or hero.
What Facebook and other sites like Flickr do so well is to enable us to engage in a flow of personal news that is being created by our network of friends. We're drawn to it, and become addicted because we're wired for news - for looking for trends, for stories, for a bit if voyeurism. The new news comes from our friends.
For example, it's news to me when Will adds adds a friend in Facebook - it adds to what I know about Will. The thing is, and this is essential, these parts of my friend's world are now visible to me - and they weren't before. I can see that Will is friends with Lyal Avery. It's apparent to me what my friends are doing, saying or creating thanks to the flow coming from social networking sites and that, my friends, is the new and amazingly addictive news to me.