When I was a sophomore in college, poking (not literally) around AOL, chatting until the wee hours of the morning was a pasttime. In 1998, you could logon to the AOL software and search member profiles for "Fordham" or "Brooklyn" to find people (girls) to IM with live. New people on tap--it's a concept that has largely disappeared from the typical social web experience today. Now and then, I get a random Skyper from Italy, but young US users don't really use Skype for IM. Now it's about your friends (and maybe people who read your blog.)
In fact, one noticable change about Facebook in the last few months is the disappearance of "Network" pages. These were pages meant to aggregate all the activity of users in a particular network, be it geographic, corporate or a school. For the most part, they focused
on people you didn't know--random wall posts from strangers, events that were public but not really meant for you, and browsing of people in your city or school but outside your friend group.
This was counter to the experience Facebook clearly wanted you to have--one about your friends and the information they wanted to share with you. So, despite the fact that the site "opened up" to high schools, then to the general public, the experience actually got less open as these network pages disappeared. Even mass friending is generated by your email account, guaranteeing that you're unlikely to get a friend request from someone you don't know, unless you're Scoble or Calacanis.
What this means is that the social signal to noise is still pretty high. If you think about all the content you see on Facebook, the vast majority of it is content directly tied to people you know. That's why the events platform is so successful. Finding relevent events on the web has been a challenge for quite a while, and now, having that filter of being shown events that my friends are going to is as good a recommender as any. I find more new events though Facebook than I ever did using any other tool. Evite has much of this same data, but they really blew it by not showing me things my friends are going to.
Applications have gotten less and less spammy, too, and will be even less disruptive after the next UI iteration.
When you keep your connections to your actual friend group, the pictures, events, notes and updates are all highly likely to be relevent to you. That's why its so hard to unseat Facebook at moment. Not only are all my friends there, but they're presented to me without much disruption.
Not only that, but that's also why mainstream users don't care about data lock-in. If all my friends are in one place, than what do I care if I can't move them? I don't want to. Imagine if Facebook was a bar and all your friends were there at a party. You wouldn't say, "Hey, all my friends are here... How do we get them out?"
That is, unless it felt crowded, which Facebook's reliance on activity vs. presence ensures it won't. At any given time, most of your friends, just aren't doing anything, which is fine.
The interesting thing to me, though, is where all the strangers went and whether anyone mainstream really cares. There are video services like PalTalk that are based around random chat rooms, or servicesthat can introduce you to people along specific shared interest lines like last.fm, Flickr, MyBlogLog, but is seems clear that the web has gone the way of Meetup Scott's favorite shirt: "Fuck you, I don't need more friends."
Was it always the case that we preferred our own friends to new folks, and we just didn't have the critical mass of friends online before? Now, it's odd if someone my age or younger isn't on Facebook.
Fred wrote the other day that he think the web is going the way of everyone publishing to the world. I think he's almost right. He should have written "everyone publishing to whoever they want, which includes everyone, if they choose." I'm not sure whether that means people will choose everyone or not.
It's possible we'll wind up in two camps. There are tons of people who go out of their way to make Facebook profiles, MySpace photos, etc. private, and ohers who live out loud. The social implications of the divide are interesting, although I don't necessarily agree with Tom that its a class thing. There are just as many show-off inner city teens on MySpace as their are rich guys who want to publish their health records.
You might say those teens don't know any better, but I think we may get to a world where we just throw up our hands and say, "What was the fuss about anyway? So now you know. Big deal."