David Warsh says he finally gets Facebook. It's "the largest news organization ever":
In Which, Finally, I Understand Facebook, Economic Principals: I’m one of those who has been slow in coming around to Facebook. For years the bourgeoning social network site seemed like one more distraction that I did not need. I friended those I knew who asked, admired the digital persona that my friend the columnist Alex Beam devised (so like the real thing only more so), saw the movie, followed the news of star appointments to its corporate high command, but still didn’t quite understand.
Now, thanks to Joshua Gans, of the Melbourne Business School (and a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, in Cambridge, Mass.), I finally get it. “Facebook is the largest news organization ever,” Gans wrote last month in a post on a blog maintained by the Harvard Business Review. ...
As a newspaperman, I was aware for many years of the efforts of publishers to learn how to drill down in their communities in order to produce what they called “hyper-local news.” Some initiatives started twenty-five years ago. The idea was to somehow parlay newsgathering expertise and reputation into a geyser of local content, sufficient to attract ever more readers and advertising from every corner store.
Facebook, Gans wrote, is what has become of that hyper-local notion. “It just turned out that it wasn’t a geographic neighborhood but a socially connected one.” Facebook, he wrote, provided a platform whereby individuals became reporters and editors.
Software did the rest, pooling the contributions of members of social networks large and small into a “news feed” – the company’s terminology – consisting of items and assorted clips from mainstream media, blogs, songs, jokes, games, photos, a stream of content piped continuously back to contributors, such that almost anyone who becomes familiar with the feature will ordinarily begin to look at their Facebook page once a day, at least after their network of friends reaches a certain critical mass.
“You are not interested in this kind of information from people you don’t know,” writes Gans, “but you are interested in it from people you do know.” Facebook has become a collaborative news experience, a kind of locally-constructed newspaper, produced by people who were already of interest to the reader. ...