Tuesday 14 June 2011

The writing is on the wall

The writing is on the wall and it's on the Facebook wall if Sky News are to be believed as they analyse a second successive slump of Facebook usage. People are not just wandering off to some other network either - 100,000 Britons actively deleted their accounts in their entirety last year.

It seems, as I wrote elsewhere, that perhaps Facebook has finally stepped over the privacy line once too often. But is that the entire story? Hitting delete on an entire profile is a big commitment when your entire photographic history is also going along with the modern day equivalent of your business card, journal, sms history and address book combined with it.

Ultimately, though, we have been here before and if you look at the work histories of any of the Execs over in Silicon Vallery working on social the story is clear to see - social networks have an evolutionary life and by all accounts, Facebook has done well to last as long as it has. I suggested in the office the other day that Facebook was dying and was laughed at....but.

What if everyone is as pig headed as me and as soon as they start seeing Facebook icons on pints of milk and other items in the super market, on flyers and on bus shelters they decide this has all gone a bit 'overground' and disappear off into the ether to find the next big thing? Likely, I'd say, especially in the current climate which is already seeing young people being arrested up and down the country for dancing in warehouses. If you want to organise an underground event, lets face it, you do not put it on Facebook which is the equivalent of organising something in a room with a press conference.

No. Cultural evolution, digital evolution, political reflections. Nothing is as simple as entrenched and therefore safe in this kind of climate.

And what does this mean for local government?

Well, for a start, I'm going to make a leap at the demographic which is not leaving Facebook - the over 40's. No. For them, it is the safe sandpit of the digital frontier - and so they will stay. Community groups will thrive, collaboration will flourish and consultations will be answered - potentially by the same old people who always answered, but hey, who the hell cares.

The people who are doing the digital equivalent of disappearing into the woodwork are the under 25's. And it begs the question, an interesting question - is local government as reactive as it could be, can it keep up with modern young people, does it have the systems and protocols in place to connect with young people digitally no matter what platform they might be using, were we too busy looking at the platform and not the access point, did we all miss a trick, did we do our behavioural research properly, did we impose our own expectations on this group of people, did we want them to stay there, nicely, with their mouth shut and their location nicely flagged while we talked at them?

Hard questions.

But the ultimate question for me is: can we move as fast as we need to in what is proving to be an incredibly fickle communication space?

Do we want to be?

What will it take to be?

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