Darwinism vs Facebook – compare & contrast


Two interesting things have happened in the last few weeks that have created some interesting parallels.

Firstly, as Thursday the 12 of Feb, we celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin! (his birth anyway, although I dare say he required a few more years of evolution before his namesake theory on evolution). There is a heap of specials being run by almost every general science magazine that you can check out below..



and for the purists there is the dedicated darwin website [ http://www.darwin200.org/ ]

As most would know his key postulations were regarding natural selection as the basis for evolution of the species. Further inferences from his body of work were derived such as survial of the fittest and adaptation being central to longevitity.

And, in the second interesting bit of news, that I believe relates hugely to Darwin was the admission this week by myspace of “defeat” by facebook in the battle of the social networking sites.


At first glance the basis for this outcome focuses around the positioning of the sites by their respective organisations.. to quote the article “We built MySpace for people to find and connect with people they don’t know. Facebook is … built around connecting with people you already know.” … I overhead a 14 yo sharing her mobile conversation with a bus a few months back who described it more succinctly as “myspace is for fans, facebook is for friends”.  However, while clearly this notion is a major basis for the success of facebook the fact that they were able to appeal to the social in social networking was driven by their ability to adapt the platform to create the user experience that reflected how the user expected their social network to work. Myspace (initially) simply created a method of remembering a user’s friends, enabling basic messaging between them and posting of information to be shared.  They ignored (initially) the way true/existing social networks operated which is hardly binary. 


In the real world, which we occupied BF (before facebook) our social networks were defined primarily by us as invididuals. We chose our friends and the level of interaction with them and this was a moving target based on likes, interests, geography and history. Facebook either understood this to begin with or more likely learnt this as they went along. Key to their ascendency has been their ability to adapt the operation of their platform to mimic the way we would operate in real life (IRL for you old ICQ fans). Myspace, realised around this time last year that they too needed to adapt the social aspect of their offering to get the same level of engagement. They failed. 


The other parallel to Darwinism present in this outcome is that Facebook operated like an ecosystem in its own right. From the outset they not only created life, but enabled those within the network to create species (applications) as well. The rate of evolution in the FB world was startling – there is literally 10s of thousands of applications. I see these as the digital equivalent of food for the user. The 5 (or 50) or so that anyone chooses to install drive their interest/time/life on the platform.Myspace also tried to emulate this approach but got stuck in their own inability to adapt.


I say, hats off to Facebook, for getting it right, and when they didnt.. being able to change such that they did. I remember signing up initially for myspace and then closing this account about 5 months after signing up for facebook (when there was still only about 100,000 people on FB – currently 4.5M in australia alone) as it was clearly evident that the writing was on the wall.


The only interesting question that remains is …  “Is facebook actually an argument for intelligent design? (the key opposing argument to evolution)… in that by design they enabled their ability to adapt and succeeded, where myspace which evolved, naturally failed.

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One Response

  1. cam

    February 13, 2009 1:44 pm,

    While I don’t doubt that facebook is the far superior technology to myspace (I don’t use either so I can hardly comment on that part), I do think that there were some other reasons behind Facebooks explosive growth.

    I read an article about 12-18 months back in some geek magazine, I think it was Wired. It basically went over how the various social networking sites would ‘scrape’ your gmail/hotmail/yahoo/etc address books for email addresses of people that weren’t already signed up, and spam them asking them to sign up. As you can imagine this is/was a pretty major source of new users

    Once Microsoft picked up a reasonable share of Facebook, they then blocked all other social networking sites from scraping Hotmail address books. In response to this various other free email providers that were aligned with other networking sites also began blocking usage of their address books.

    The article compared the data sets (address books) that the various social networking sites had access to, and it basically showed that Facebook had access to a significantly larger number of potential users than any other networking site.

    So anyway, long comment short – Facebook had/has access to a lot more email addresses to spam than any other networking site, and the article was suggesting that this was a fairly major contributer to it’s growth. Notch up another one to Gates and his cronies!?

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