10 ways Facebook will rule our lives

Now that Facebook is flush with cash (and expectations), here's what we have to watch out for.

After all the attention, clamor, and expectations Facebook is now a publicly traded company worth $104 billion. With shares trading at a hundred times earnings, Facebook is under a lot of pressure to increase the profit that it brings in. In other words, now the fun begins.

How will Facebook try to change our lives as it attempts to live up to investor expectations? Of course we'll see more ads, but that's  just a small part of Facebook's plan. If it wants to maintain its inflated price-to-earnings ratio, Facebook will have to settle for nothing less than Internet domination.  

In the next few years we may see the company extend its reach further and further into our personal lives in an attempt to "rule the world" -- or, at least, our private lives -- and make money off the process.

Here are ten ways Facebook will -- and to some degree already does -- rule our lives.

1. Facebook Rules Relationships

Facebook already plays a huge role in our personal and professional relationships, and this role will only continue to grow. People have an extremely hard time leaving Facebook because, well, all of their friends are on Facebook -- how else will they connect with those friends, share with them, and know what's going on in their lives? And these relationships aren't just an extension of the relationships we have in real life -- more relationships are being created on, and staying exclusively on, Facebook.

Facebook is also beginning to play a larger role in our professional relationships. How many of us "friend" co-workers or use the service to network professionally? Facebook, with 900 million users, could give LinkedIn (with 161 million members) a run for its money when it comes to  professional networking and as a career building tool.    

2. Facebook Rules Web-based "Real Names"

Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace (and Friendster, and High5, and some other networks, but let's focus on MySpace). On MySpace, people didn't have to write down their full names -- they didn't have to be "Sarah Jacobsson Purewal," they could be "Sarah," or "Bob," or even "~++pRiNcEsS++~." But then Facebook came along and demanded that people use their real names and dates of birth, and people, well...did.  

In other words, Facebook has managed to destroy the trend of people hiding behind goofy usernames on the Internet. The social network has over 900 million monthly active users, the majority of whom are using their real names.

3. Facebook's Foray into Health

Facebook recently introduced an organ donation initiative, which lets people share their status as an organ donor on their Facebook Timeline. At the moment, all it does is let people share their status.  But according to Donate Life America, which is working with Facebook, 6000 enrolled to donate their organs the day the initiative launched -- compared to 400 signups it would see on a normal day. 

Never mind organ donation; it's not too farfetched to see Facebook leveraging its massive network when it comes to matching up bone marrow or kidney donors with recipients.

Facebook has also forayed into health-related fields in the past -- in December, for example, the social network teamed up with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to offer online support for potentially suicidal users. In this initiative, family and friends of suicidal Facebook users can "report" public suicidal comments to Facebook, and the person who made the comment will be offered suicide prevention support.

In other words, Facebook is already pushing its way into people's most private parts of their lives -- their health -- and, it appears, succeeding.

4. Facebook's Push to Rule Advertising

It's a given that Facebook already rules our lives in terms of advertising -- even if Facebook ads may not be as effective as Google ads. This is because we constantly see Facebook ads, if not necessarily the paid ones.

Let me explain. Facebook last year introduced the concept of "frictionless sharing," or the ability to passively share your activity online with your Facebook friends. Though frictionless sharing hasn't proven to be a huge moneymaker for Facebook or for the third-party apps that use it, it is a constant fixture in our Facebook News Feeds. Facebook may have yet to fully leverage its advertising potential, but it's mastered the friends-based advertising that pervades News Feeds.

Facebook also constantly bombards its users with super-targeted ads that feature their friends. The idea behind this is that people will take recommendations from their friends, and so if their friends are featured in an ad about something, they're more likely to click. Again -- this hasn't been a proven moneymaker, but it does impact people. Though I may not be any more likely to drink Pepsi if I see an ad for Pepsi featuring one of my friends, I will associate that friend with Pepsi -- something I normally wouldn't have done unless said friend was such an avid consumer of Pepsi that it was a running joke.

A few months ago when Facebook tweaked its privacy policy, the service asserted it has a right to use all of the information it collect on users to sell ads on other sites to target people (more on privacy below). Meanwhile, Facebook has increased the number of ads people see and where they see them.

5. Web's Biggest Memories Vault

Facebook boasts that its users upload an average of 300 million photos per day, and its servers contain more than 100 billion photos. And that's not counting third-party applications that also hold photos, such as the recently-acquired Instagram.

Combine Facebook's massive photo database with its new Timeline feature -- the profile redesign that lists life events such as births, graduations, and weddings -- and Facebook has pretty much become the world's biggest online scrapbook. Today Facebook is a living breathing genealogy of our family and friends, but could become where people turn to find links to distant relatives.

6. Facebook Rules Our "Private" Data

Facebook controls our privacy. I know what you're thinking -- we control our privacy, to a certain extent...don't we? Well, yes, but many of us have given almost complete control of that privacy over to Facebook.

Sure, I can adjust my Facebook settings so that only my friends can see what I write on my Facebook wall, or only my family can see my date of birth, hometown, and phone number. But I did put all of those things on Facebook to begin with -- and my "privacy" hinges on Facebook's "promise" that it will protect that privacy. Had I not put any of those revealing details about my life on Facebook, I would retain control over my privacy.

So what does that mean? It doesn't mean that Facebook is suddenly going to expose your private data to the public -- because that would be stupid. What it means is that Facebook, when it does expose your data (and it will -- it's a social networking site, and social networking, by definition, can only exist if people share things -- willingly or not), will do so in a controlled manner, and likely for profit. For example, whenever you "Like" something on the web, you give Facebook explicit permission to expose your data to that company, or product, or brand, and it's only a matter of time before Facebook figures out how to utilize such exposure to its maximum advantage.

7. Darth Facebook: The Internet's Biggest Scapegoat

The darker side of Facebook and social networking: alienation. In the book "Alone Together," author and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle notes that "friending" people on Facebook has replaced "friending" people in real life. Turkle argues that technology causes people to disengage from real people and prioritize convenience over real human emotions.

In other words, thanks to Facebook and other technologies (such as texting, e-mail, Skype, and role-playing games), people no longer feel the need to communicate in a more typical human fashion -- talking to each other, either on the phone or in real life. Turkle interviewed hundreds of children and adults about technology and discovered that many adolescents disliked using the phone because such conversations were revealing and "prying." One adolescent said that "When you talk on the phone, you don't really think about what you're saying as much as in a text. On the telephone, too much might show."

8. Facebook Rules Zeitgeist

According to Facebook's website, more than 80 percent of its 900 million-plus active users reside outside of the United States and Canada. While other companies can boast of a similar global reach, no other company has a similar global network -- because Facebook's users aren't just aware of Facebook, they're also aware of each other.

Sheryl Sandberg,  Facebook COO, couldn't have put it better: "We have over 900 million monthly active users worldwide, giving people the opportunity to spark global conversations about ideas, social movements, products or services. In the United States everyday on Facebook is like the season finale of American Idol, the most popular show on television, times two."

There are many ways Facebook could utilize this global network to its advantage. It could create the world's largest online phone book -- suddenly the idea of a Facebook phone doesn't seem so crazy after all. It could create an online auction site, similar to eBay -- but more connected, and with more "trust," because people could get to know each other better before making purchases. It could also foster political revolutions and social change.

9. Facebook to Rule Mobile?

Facebook has been criticized for not having a clear mobile strategy. Despite the fact that 488 million of Facebook's 901 million monthly active users access the social networking service from a smartphone or tablet, the company has so far been unable to leverage its mobile reach by adding ads to its apps.

That said, it's possible that Facebook's mobile takeover has already begun -- it's just not as direct as we expected it to be. Popular social games, such as Zynga's "With Friends" franchise or OMGPOP's Draw Something use Facebook almost exclusively to connect users, while other non-social games such as Angry Birds still allow users to tap into to Facebook to share their scores with their friends.

Facebook's big mobile move might be years away, but when it does it will have the largest preinstalled user base to tap into when it does.

10. It Affects How We Start and Run Businesses

Every year, millions of Americans will start their own business. And Facebook will undoubtedly play a large role in many of these businesses. Not only will Facebook affect small business owners' marketing and social networking strategies (it's essentially free advertising), but it will also be where much of their customer base resides.

It's not unlikely that Facebook will try to use this power to its advantage. After all, think of how valuable a hand-delivered batch of customers who fit a targeted demographic exactly -- right down to the movies they like and the sodas they drink -- will be to a burgeoning business. What business wouldn't pay for such an advantage?

That said, businesses that want to create a dialogue with their customers use Facebook. Granted some companies, such as GM, which decided recently that Facebook isn't so great for advertising, still value having a social relationship with their customers. GM has 380,000 "Friends" on Facebook I'm sure it won't un-friend just because they aren't clicking on its ads.

Facebook, Ruler of All

These are ten ways Facebook might try to rule our lives using its vast social networking power. But that doesn't mean that it will, or that if it tries, it will succeed. Back in the day when Microsoft was a dominant player, people predicted that the company would have a pervasive element in every aspect of our lives -- and look where Microsoft is now. It's not dead, but it's certainly not everywhere.

Plus, if you're worried about how Facebook might rule the world, you may want to take a look at Google -- and just how much data of yours that search engine actually has.

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Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

PC World (US online)

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