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Facebook: The Awkward Teenager

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Kara Swisher, who writes for All Things D, had a couple of posts on Facebook recently that got me thinking again about the social-networking site. In the first one, Kara said that using Facebook often seems like “children’s hour,” because of all the goofy applications and widgets that your friends and acquaintances are constantly adding (and trying to get you to add as well).

Sometimes it’s the Fun Wall widget or the Super-Poke app or the Top Friends feature, and sometimes it’s an invitation to take a quiz, or have a vampire fight, or even to pop someone’s (virtual) zits. As Kara says in her post:

“What [founder Mark] Zuckerberg and the widget-makers have wrought is mostly silly, useless and time-wasting and the kazillion users of these widgets are pretty much just acting like little children.”

In her second post on the topic, Kara talks about how easy it is to do silly things with your friends or members of a Facebook group, but how surprisingly difficult it is to do some of the more serious things you might want to do — such as create interactive features just for that group, or email everyone.

In a lot of ways, Facebook.com is in a kind of awkward teenage phase at the moment. It started as a network for university and high-school students, and a lot of those users continue to be devoted to it, so a lot of the goofier apps and widgets probably appeal to (and are designed to appeal to) them. To the growing numbers of older, professional users however, those widgets are just irritating and silly, and they get in the way of making more serious use of the site.

It’s a bit like a club that used to be an after-hours hangout for teenagers suddenly deciding to open itself up to the general public, and then all kinds of forty-somethings start showing up, complaining about how the lights are too dim, or the orange shag carpeting is irritating, and then get all shirty when some club kid comes up and offers them some E or starts dancing on the table.

Whether Facebook can manage the transition remains to be seen — and it’s worth remembering that the Facebook f8 platform, which caused the explosion of widgets, is only a few months old. It’s possible that some of the goofier ones will die off, as the site evolves into something a little more useful than the Saturday afternoon yuk-fest it occasionally seems to be.

Of course, the site has to figure out what to do about getting more funding too, not to mention the little traffic dip that Om Malik seems to have noticed in the latest comScore numbers. And Jason Calacanis has a reality check for those who think Facebook is a) going to crush Google, b) is worth $100-billion, etc.

Update:

Mike Arrington has a different take on the Facebook traffic numbers at TechCrunch. And Kara says that sources have told her Google could swoop in to make some kind of deal with Facebook involving ads and possibly an ownership stake — and they also say it could come soon, possibly in the next 24 hours. Om says that the traffic dip is just seasonal, which a number of commenters on various posts (including Mike’s) have mentioned as well.

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Facebook: The Awkward Teenager
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