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NEWSWEEK COVER: The Facebook Effect

The August, 20-27 double issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, August 13), “The Facebook Effect” looks at how Facebook, the wildly popular networking site is growing up and facing new challenges to become a fixture in the digital age; excerpts from the Newsweek/Kaplan “How to Get Into College Guide,” the “25 Hottest Schools;” and a look at what schools across the nation are doing to beef up security and improve student mental health. Plus: how IEDs are changing modern warfare. (PRNewsFoto/NEWSWEEK)


 Facebook has Revolutionized College Life and now it is out for the Rest of  the World
A Growing Number of Users are no Longer in College, but Facebook may not be the Perfect Tool for 
Non-Students Just yet

    NEW YORK, Aug. 12 /PRNewswire

Facebook revolutionized the way college students communicate with each other since its creation in 2004,
but it has also become a tool for people who are no longer students.
Facebook officials claim that more than half its 35 million active users
are not college students, and that by the end of this year less than 30
percent of Facebook users will sport college IDs.
    (Photo: )

     For the cover package featured in the August 20-27 double issue of
Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, August 13), Mark Zuckerberg, the
23-year-old Harvard dropout who started the site, recently met with Senior
Editor Steven Levy and explained that Facebook is (1) not a
social-networking site but a "utility," a tool to facilitate the
information flow between users and their compatriots, family members and
professional connections; (2) not just for college students, and (3) a
world-changing idea of unlimited potential. But the nub of his vision
revolves around a concept he calls the "social graph."
    As Zuckerberg describes it, the social graph is a mathematical
construct that maps the real-life connections between every human on the
planet. Each of us is a node radiating links to the people we know. "We
don't own the social graph," he says. "The social graph is this thing that
exists in the world, and it always has and it always will. It's really most
natural for people to communicate through it, because it's with the people
around you, friends and business connections or whatever. What [Facebook]
needed to do was construct as accurate of a model as possible of the way
the social graph looks in the world. So once Facebook knows who you care
about, you can upload a photo album and we can send it to all those people
    Newsweek reports that 1 million people a week are flocking to Facebook.
And the international push is only beginning. Zuckerberg told Levy that
Facebook is the top Web site in Canada, and that the geographic network
with the most Facebookers is London. While the site is now available only
in English, Zuckerberg says that versions in other languages will appear
soon, making his goal of having Facebook become the center of online life,
appear possible. But the question remains, can Facebook be as much a
presence in the life of graduates and geezers as it is to college students?
Zuckerberg can't see why not. "Adults still communicate with the people
they're connected with."
    Despite the need to communicate, Facebook may not be the perfect
networking tool for many non-students just yet. At this point, much of the
grammar of the site (as well as much of the first wave of applications) are
still tilted toward student life. David Rodnitzky, 35, a San Francisco
marketing executive, was having a fine time on Facebook until he installed
a widget called "My Questions." Unbeknownst to him, it sent out a query to
people on his friend list, specifically: "Do you kiss on the first date?"
"Here I was, asking some of my company's venture capitalists, along with
some of my guy friends, if they kiss on the first date," says Rodnitzky.
"Probably not the best way to interact." Nor is it clear whether grown-ups
embrace the new SuperPoke third-party application: instead of a mere poke
(the equivalent of saying "hey you" online) you can bite, slap, bump,
spank, lick, grope or head-butt friends, acquaintances and, uh, business
    Zuckerberg and his team feel certain that the Facebook idea will trump
all these concerns. He's built a superhigh-IQ engineering team at the Palo
Alto, Calif., Facebook headquarters. "Absolutely yes," says Facebook's COO,
Owen Van Natta, to the question of whether it will change the world of 30-,
40- and 50- year-olds the way it has on campus. He then amends the question
to conform to the company's new unofficial, and weirdly defensive, motto:
it's not just students. "Facebook did not change college life, but it
changed the lives of the early adopters ... many of whom were in college.
We're entering a phase where every single day we have more people over 25
entering Facebook than any other demographic. So, absolutely, yes."
    The cover package also includes the debate over why people love and
hate Facebook. Correspondent Kurt Soller who has been a member since his
last year in high school says he loves Facebook because the site has
allowed him the freedom to build new relationships while still remaining in
touch with old friends. On the opposite side of the love/ hate debate,
Correspondent Sarah Kliff writes that although she understands the value of
Facebook, she hates it. Kliff writes that the constant monitoring and
updating takes up too much time that can be spent on more important things
and it forces users to obsess over "dull details" rather than focus on
connecting with others.
    (Read cover story at

Why everyone’s a winner

It was, as the Sun might say, the web wot won it. Barack Obama’s election was one in which the world felt involved and it wasn’t just because of the historic nature of the election or the power of the job. I lost count of the number of times I’ve had to fight back the tears watching viral videos and the numbers suggest I wasn’t alone.

Obama’s campaign team is everywhere online: YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook, whose co-founder Chris Hughes worked for the campaign from early last year. They mobilised supporters and organised communities, registering 1.5 million volunteers through and raising $600m from 3 million people. Obama’s campaign also built a consensual database of 3m mobile numbers by promising that in return, supporters would get campaign news before the media. And so they did almost immediately with the announcement of Joe Biden as vice-presidential candidate. “It was a masterclass in political campaigning – a high water mark,” says Mark Flanagan, head of strategic communications for No 10. “They have built on the lessons from Howard Dean, and let people build their own networks. was inspired.” Obama even managed to pull off intimate discussions with major donors over dinner, posted to the campaign’s YouTube account. “He’s just a fantastic political communicator. There’s no sense of artifice – just a melding of the candidate and the human being,” says Flanagan.

The web is built on technology that is primarily for communication, and not publishing. That dynamic is the source of its power and, crucially, its intimacy. What social media represents – and what fed Obama’s victory – is a direct engagement and communication between friends, contacts and families. When we share ideas, opinions and information they become part of that intimate, trusted network in our own small corner of the internet. Our subconscious is hard-wired to assume that faces we see regularly are our own friends (explaining our preoccupation with celebrity), and so we feel that we know Obama because we’ve spent so much time with him. Yet it was a massive night for TV when the results broke on Tuesday. Glued to the live TV screens in Chicago’s Grant Park, one reveller joked it was “probably the largest audience CNN had ever had”.

Some 1.3 million of us dutifully tuned into the BBC, its best ever US election audience, compared with 300,000 viewers for ITV. Yet the corporation’s lacklustre and painfully cautious results coverage failed to capture the excitement of a historic night because of the BBC’s decision to try to kill both the US and UK audiences with one stone. The result was a panel of mostly old, grey pundits, some valiant padding between results and Jeremy Vine turning his back on viewers to fiddle with a stroppy touchscreen. Even Fox News did better, calling more wins first than any other broadcaster – 16 according to PoliticsHome. Three blogs – the Unapologetic Mexican, Pandagon and Blue Indiana – all correctly predicted 19 out of 20 results for the key battle states, and FiveThirtyEight built a solid following of readers of its comprehensive election stats. Nielsen reports that, which has a tradition of multimedia journalism, saw the biggest percentage increase in users, up 113% to 2.31 million on November 4. Web TV viewing was up threefold in the UK overnight. Nearly 5.5 million Facebookers told friends they had voted through a widget on the site. And Twitter, awash with reaction and news, not only stayed up all night but saw a 46% increase in typical traffic and a 40% growth spurt in new accounts. Twitter updates even made it on to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart’s superb results night show: Indecision 2008.

Obama’s campaign accounted for half of all online political advertising this year at $8m – a fact that won’t have escaped Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt, who is reportedly on the shortlist for a chief techie role in Obama’s administration.

The web has helped to inspire and empower a generation that has rejected political apathy. Obama’s team used technology to make issues personal and relevant by giving people ownership of the campaign. It wasn’t a complicated strategy.

It felt like Christmas morning, that euphoria of waking up to Obama’s victory speech in Grant Park. We know it can’t be Christmas every day, and I can’t say I’m surprised that there’s already a Facebook group calling for his impeachment. But the administration has already turned the campaign slogan into his new domain – Can we keep on making history with him? Yes – I do believe we can.

An online Nostradamus, and the search for his identity

Illustration by Claudio Munoz

BACK in September a message appeared on an online bulletin board owned by Daum, the most popular web host in a country, South Korea, with a huge internet culture. Written by someone called “Minerva”, it predicted the imminent collapse of Lehman Brothers, a now-defunct investment bank.

Wild speculation is normally disregarded, but when it proved to be right just five days later, a prophet was born. Word raced through the “netizen” community, and when Minerva went on to predict that the Korean won would fall against the dollar by around 50 won a day in the first half of the week of October 6th, his followers began to watch the currency markets in anticipation. The won did indeed fall by about that much over the next three days.

Minerva became an internet phenomenon, with 40m-odd hits to date. Web-users combed through previous posts, looking for prognostications, and clues about his identity. Sharp comments on the state of the Korean economy and government policy only increased his standing. The media now call him “the Internet Economic President”.

The administration of President Lee Myung-bak is frequently accused of authoritarianism by opponents, so it came as little surprise when the finance minister, Kang Man-soo, admitted that officials had attempted to uncover the blogger’s identity. Some people believe him to be a senior figure in a financial firm. Others think he may even be a civil servant undermining the government from inside. All Minerva has revealed is that he is a man in his 50s.

With the government on his tail, the Minerva case is no longer just about economic prescience. As one equity analyst in Seoul puts it, “The real issue about Minerva is the government’s action…we are not in the 1970s or 1980s!” During that period South Korea was ruled by a military dictatorship, and freedom of speech curtailed.

For now, given the state of Korea’s economy—the central bank slashed rates again this week—Minerva’s identity has taken a back seat to his more recent predictions. He says the KOSPI 100 stockmarket index, now over 1,000, will drop to 500, and the value of flats in Seoul will fall by half. Such a bearish prospect may appear outlandish but, unlike Cassandra, Minerva has many believers.


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