14 May 2006

New Yorker Doesn't Get "Me Media"

In the May 15 issue of the New Yorker, John Cassidy can hardly contain his distain for the young entrepreneurs behind Facebook.

After acknowleding the site's enviable loyalty metrics ("Two-thirds of Facebook members log on at least once every twenty-four hours, and the typical user spends twenty minutes a day on the site," he tells us), Cassidy seems to feel an obligation to belittle its magic formula: "Ultimately, though, the success of sites like MySpace and Facebook may have less to do with the opportunities they provide for self-expression than with peer pressure." He cites Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Columbia, who argues "there's a certain lack of purpose to just hanging out in public, and it's hard to justify it if you don't have a lot of free time."

I wish instead he had tracked down a few media executives for the article. (VC Jim Breyer is quoted as saying that the Washington Post Company's chairman, Donald Graham, "thinks of [Facebook] as a next-generation media business," but that's about it.) There are probably many sociology professors (among others) who would argue that television only exists because everyone in the world has too much free time on their hands. Ditto the movie industry. Ditto the video game industry. Ditto book publishing, minus guide books, school texts and self-help manuals. But there's usually something positive to be said when a media enterpreneur creates a product that captures the attention of 8,600,000 people (two-thirds of Facebook's 12.9 million monthly uniques, according to Media Metrix) for 2 hours 20 minutes a week. Let alone a product that has them interacting with other college kids rather than, say, half-comotose on the couch watching The Real Housewives of Orange County.

Another thing that bugged me: While New Yorker writers usually leave out transcription conventions to indicate stutters, regional accents or spoken pauses such as "um" and "ah" between words, Cassidy quotes co-founder Dustin Moskovitz with the blemishes left in: "We had, like, a kitchen table, which we sat around. We had our laptops there, and we, like, hammered away." Gosh, those Harvard drop-outs who have built a company that the world's top VCs value at $500 million are practically illiterate!

(Disclosure: Dustin is my wife's cousin.)


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