The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Seven

I’m pleased to announce that the winners of the Facebook Telegraph story contest will get their original artwork in a nice frame, behind glass, and you can’t say fairer than that. Hundreds of you have joined in so far. Goodness, thank you! For the address, look back down in the previous Twelve Blogs.

I knew there were things I liked about the year that I’ve missed talking about thus far, and two came to mind last night:

Stardust. I absolutely adored that. It’s a specific British strain of fantasy which makes absolute sense in terms of creating filmic worlds: we know where we are and who everyone is from the first frame. The British, as Susannah Clarke has also made clear, are so good at living with fairyland (through the traditions of panto) that we’ve actually got rather blasé about it, and tend to react with surprise to the notion of specific ‘fairy story’ texts. I blogged about it at the time, so I won’t go on, but I thought it was big, charming, full of story, and tremendously easy to digest. Simply ideal.

Batman by Grant Morrison. Another bit of effortless icon use. Morrison’s Batman is Bruce Wayne, his Bruce Wayne is Batman. He’s a sane chap on a mission, who’s got room for humour, family and love in his life, and has been known to smile. The widescreen Kubert art helps, but it’s Morrison’s big cinematic gestures and his own sense of mission, in his care for the character, that really impress. And I particularly loved the issue that wasn’t a comic, but an illustrated text story, that showed he understands the Joker too. That’s the sort of one off issue that fans will pull out to show people in twenty years time.

Just got back from lunch with (author) Juliet McKenna. Jules lives in the next town, so we meet up for lunch every Christmas. Another one of those lovely yearly signposts. She’s signed with Solaris now, and is having a fabulous time with them, enjoying as I do, Marc Gascoigne and George Mann’s professionalism, business sense and inclination to buy dinner.

And it’s my first proper day off. Nothing to do. Goodness. Apart from this, obviously.

So today it’s my blog about Facebook. This social networking tool has become my central interaction with the internet, since I found MySpace to be unsatisfactory in terms of everything from graphics to privacy (I think it’s becoming a thing musicians do, and might do well to cater only to them, because the musos I know still live there). I think it, or something like it, will actually become ‘the internet’ shortly, in that a warm, friendly desktop environment with everything handy seems to me to be the ideal interface with the web. I suspect that a certain amount of de-branding will occur, as different social networks give way to a catch-all generic system. But we’re a way off from that.

When I put together my Christmas list, I expected to find loads of friend’s addresses on Facebook, but I found hardly any. Now, this seems to me to defeat the purpose. My own point of view is, I’m completely invisible on Facebook, I can’t be befriended, and I will only befriend people I know quite well in the real world (I’m only Facebook friends with two people that I haven’t met in the flesh). My Friends are thus the people who I don’t mind knowing my contact details. Now, I think most of my friends use Facebook in the same way. That is, they don’t leave themselves open to random befriendings from strangers. So why the hesitation about details?

I think some of it is about getting used to the difference between this new form of net use, and the old form, where one had to take more care. Indeed, navigating this line is where most of the current Facebook horror stories come from, all of which come down to: don’t be a complete idiot. That sort of stuff only happens to people who let anyone befriend them and then put their credit card details online. If you’re not that sort of plank, and only dealing with actual friends, then sharing a degree more personal info is, I think, useful.

What can Facebook do for you? Nothing. You see that phone sitting there on your desk, what can it do for you? Nothing. You can do lots of stuff using it. So can your friends. But it, in itself, is not going to rouse itself to housework. My point is: Facebook is a medium for you to do interesting stuff and experience interesting stuff others do. It doesn’t provide passive entertainment.

For instance, you know those groups people start: We Love Wispa Bars! Everyone arrives, and says how they love Wispa Bars too. The Wall gets full of that. But whoever started the group thinks that’s basically the subject covered then, and buggers off to start Aren’t Chocolate Bars Getting Smaller These Days? Everyone else sits there looking at each other, wondering when the fun’s going to start. Whatever said fun could possibly be. Now, I don’t blame them so much. I blame whoever started a group with the idea that they themselves wouldn’t have to provide any content. Generally, I give groups I join a couple of weeks, and see if content is provided by the originators, and then hop it if it isn’t.

There are a number of great Facebook groups that do provide such content. SFX and Doctor Who Magazine both have groups where staffers interact with the readers, and material for future issues (like interview questions) is harvested. Big Finish Audio gets it right too. In Support of the Writers Guild of America Strike is basically the complete resource of everything you need to know. (Facebook is great for group action, but some causes are served better than others. A campaign to take the ‘is’ out of the status update line was successful, because Facebook were watching it. Campaigning for anyone to win Strictly Come Dancing strikes one as being embarrassingly futile. And some campaigns, those that seek to get a certain number of people to sign up, should really be called Make Me Feel Validated By Joining My Group In Huge Numbers.) Make Mine Marvel UK and the70s TV Weirdness club are right on the cusp: their creators added loads of good material initially (and Kim Newman has created whole essays for the latter), but now the crowd assembled really should repay that with some more work of their own. Some groups work fine just by reader contribution: Signs That Fascinate And Intrigue wouldn’t work so well in any other medium. But as for When I Was Your Age Pluto Was A Planet… yes. And?

It’s the Applications that Facebook lives and dies on. The killer app is of course Scrabulous, the first game that works better on Facebook than it does in real life. I have games going with fellow comics writers, SF writers, and I run a league for people in my town. (My town actually runs on Facebook, with gigs and nights down the bar registered as Events, so that they’ll show up on our Calendars, and thus advertise themselves to our fellows.) We still await the second great game app. The Quiz function of Movies, which has allowed various fan mates to set truly diabolical quizzes, nearly gets there, but it’s not what Movies was quite designed for. Various people have developed large scale fantasy games: (author) Garth Nix just invited me to have a go at his, Imperial Galaxy, but I haven’t tried it yet so can’t comment (though Garth has a reputation that convinces me I should).

Some applications took the place of what should have been Facebook functionality. Circle of Friends enabled one to organise your Friends into groups and then message them as groups, something very useful when you don’t want to, for instance, invite mates in L.A. to drinks in Oxfordshire tonight. Facebook have responded to that by altering their Friends mechanisms to allow something similar (though it’s still pretty damn buggy).

I like an Application that either provides me with fun (Political Compass, IQ Test), or serves a purpose (I Like, which I use to put up a new music video every Saturday). I don’t like Applications that insist (rather than ask and provide a Skip button) that you tell all your friends about them. That’s not viral advertising, that herpes advertising. (But I’ve only encountered a couple like that.) And I don’t like Applications that send you notifications as though you’ve signed up to them, when people are just asking you to. No, Sheila from down the bar hasn’t sent me a message, she’s sent me an invitation to join your Application. There really also should be certain kinds of Application that distribute passively without having to join them. Christmas Cards, for example, shouldn’t have needed an opt in to see cards other people have sent you. But that may be technically impossible.

One thing people feel anxious about on Facebook is turning down such requests to join an Application. Particularly for those Pirate, Vampire and Zombie games, the invitations to join which are phrased quite aggressively. ‘Frank Darcy has bitten a chunk out of you. Do you want to bite him back?’ Myself, I merrily hit Ignore Ignore Ignore and think no more of it. But some people worry that the person who sent the original invite will get a message saying ‘Frank, Paul has Ignored you. Do you now want to bite a chunk out of him in real life?’ I’ve never encountered an application that keeps score like that, and I think most such group invites are sent not to a specifically selected group of Friends, but to everyone in the address book, and that those who send them aren’t paying much attention to who declines. That’s also why, I think, people who put signs on their Profiles saying ‘I Ignore Zombies’ are still irritated by them. Nobody who’s doing that has seen the sign. There’s a group that’s been started up asking Facebook to be able to turn down such Applications with one negative response, rather than having to keep doing so, and I think that’s probably a good idea.

One thing I don’t like, though, is Facebook naysayers on Facebook. That is, people who join groups called No I Don’t Want To Be A Zombie, **** Off! And especially those who endlessly update with ‘can’t see the point of Facebook’ and ‘is still bemused at why she’s here’. I gather someone must be standing beside these people at their computers, forcing them at gunpoint to participate against their will. I don’t know about you, but if I’m at a party, and I’m asked to join a game of Twister, and I don’t fancy it, I don’t stand on a chair, announce I’m starting the anti-Twister league and call for members.

Some Applications work for other folk, but not for me. I just have a Wall, not a Fun Wall or a Super Wall, because I know exactly the sort of things Guy and Simon and Khal would put on my Fun Wall (indeed, I’ve taken on the Application for five minutes, and had a look, and yes they did) and not in front of everyone else, thank you. I’m excited to use Books to plonk one-click Amazon links to my own titles near the top of my Profile, and then Posted Items to feature Caroline’s two bands.

The central point of my life on Facebook is to gather together people I really know, entertain them, and be entertained by them. The morning selection of everything people have been doing, of tiny quotes about their lives, of heartbreaking or heartwarming changes in status (‘… is no longer in a relationship’, updated ‘interested in’…) is worth the whole system in itself. I’ve gotten on good terms with (nearly) all my exes as a result of contacting them through Facebook. My Social Timeline has (nearly) sorted out my confused and impossible past into something resembling a narrative. And the way an old photo of you can pop up from someone else, with your image tagged in it, and thus call you to see it, is again a new glory of the internet age. There’s your past, popping up again all around you. Wow.

In the New Year, I’m hoping Facebook will continue to listen and innovate, and that Applications, and the advertising they bring, will continue to be the revenue generator of choice. I don’t think it’s a waste of my time, I think it’s using my time well, because it’s all used on my friends. And as I said, I think in a few years time it’ll just be what we mean when we say ‘the internet’.

There we go! I’m going to talk about Doctor Who towards the end of the Twelve Blogs, I promise, both about my story and the Christmas special.

Today’s links are about radio this very evening:

At 5pm, on Resonance FM (104.4FM (London) / streamed at / podcast at Alex Fitch and Duncan Nott are looking at the depiction of beloved children's characters in comics, and are talking with a mate of mine, Fables artist Mark Buckingham, and then with the Transformers chaps, Geoff Senior and Simon Furman.

Then, at 6.30pm, Penny Broadhurst, pop star of this parish, is on Radio Four, as part of 28 Acts In 28 Minutes.

Do give them a listen, and until I see you tomorrow, Cheerio!

18 Response to "The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Seven"

  • Ian Abrahams Says:

    That's a really well thought out and expressed summation of Facebook and I'm off straight away to put my address in full view! There's a little bit of horses for courses between FB and Myspace as you allude to. I've spent a bit of time this year developing and helping run a Myspace page for an musician friend of mine who recently left a well-known band (people who know me will thus guess which one!) and is back to having to market himself as an act. For that, Myspace has just been invaluable and by his own admission was a big factor in keeping him afloat this year and attracting international interest in his work from labels and promoters. Which is fantastic and it shows the power of Myspace (I know bands with contracts that not just approve of it but actually insist upon it) but Facebook, despite its size, is all about friend to friend communication and is a big factor in rekindling lots of old friendships ... some with people I haven't seen or communicated with since school. Good stuff, and its really a sharp representation of whats good about the Internet in general, that feeling that despite all the bad stuff on it, when you want to find someone to help you with something there's always someone out there who'll do so.

  • mysgreen Says:

    I think of Myspace as a play to play and mess around and to be honest I've not been there very much because current events in my life means I don't really feel like being silly and playful.

    Facebook is more for interacting mostly with people I know well, whether through the internet or in real life (or at the moment catching up with vast amounts of my sister's school friends for some reason!!)

    I happily ignore various app requests for the simple reason that I am slightly obsessive comupulsive and I don't like it getting untidy!
    I'm quite please that apps have been developed involving sites like Twitter (for my updates on the move), Flickr (for my silly phone camera photo-blogging moments) and (though I also run the iLike app cos I do like to show off my eclectic musical tastes!)

    My dad is on facebook. A few of my old teachers are on facebook. Unlike Myspace it seems to cross the generation much more effectively.

  • faldor Says:

    Do you really go to parties where people play twister?

  • Tom Daylight Says:

    It's insecurity, I think, that leads people to accept friends they don't really know, out of anxiety of being socially isolated. Certainly there's one or two people on my friends list whose friend requests I accepted out of insecurity, despite not knowing them very well.

    A few months ago I added a pair of artists who I've known for about seven years, but whose work I've admired my entire life - I hesitated before adding them because we only really knew each other through my appreciation of their work, and I wasn't entirely comfortable of opening up my entire life (which, frankly, seems to consist of Facebook) to them.

  • SK Says:

    Sideshow Bob is aware of the irony of appearing on Facebook in order to decry it.

  • Alex Says:

    Thanks for the plug! Demonstrating my uselessness at using facebook - except for my initial pleased with myself(ness) that I'd set up the importing of notes from my blog - it didn't even occur to me to look for Mark on the site otherwise I'd have given him some advance warning our interview was on this afternoon... The podcast'll go up on the 27th.
    Managed to post on your Who compo thread now at least...
    Like you said, I wish everyone put their addresses on facebook; I lost my address book in the same bag as everything else on the way out of Birmingham so have been e-mailing and texting over the last couple of days to try and get christmas card addresses off everyone, to not entirely effective results...

  • marco Says:

    ** Blush**

    Ho ho ho! -- Marco @ Solaris

  • Ian Abrahams Says:

    It amused me today that having posted my mobile number and address on my FB profile, I quickly received an e-mail from a friend suggesting I quickly remove it because 'you never know who is looking at it'.

    I checked, and yes, indeed, there is *his* address and phone number in the PUBLIC TELEPHONE DIRECTORY. So, no need to register on FB to get that info!

    Made me smile!

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    All good thoughts about FB, dears. Thanks for the info, Alex, I shall listen in. There are a couple of writers I admire that I've seen on FB, but because I don't know them, won't allow myself to try and befriend! You have to have a system! And if your Profile *is* private, good to have your address up there too!

  • Ian Abrahams Says:

    The info that really needs to be avoided is the type that credit card companies still seem keen on as identification passes ... Mother's maiden name, name of your pet, that sort of stuff. I've looked again and as far as I can see my profile is private now .. but addresses really are public domain stuff anyway.

  • Anonymous Says:

    I love facebook as it's so much more casual. In fact, I like it because I use it opposite than the way you use it. It's easier to approach people, by playing games or throwing sheep at people or joining together on a trivia team and I've gotten to know people better (both friends new and old) than if I just added them to MySpace and sent e-mails. The interaction is the key. And I have something to break the ice next time I see people.

    -Erik E.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Erik, that sounds great. And indeed, what a wonderful way to use the resource. I've just had my horizons expanded, thank you!

  • Caz Says:

    Hi...I loved your story in the newspaper!! My dad just gave it to me to read. :D

    I hate myspace and facebook. >.> Myspace I can't figure out, not to mention that thingy on the news ages ago about ppl getting hacked and stuff. :D

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thank you very much, Caz, and I hope your Dad liked it too!

  • Dwight Williams Says:

    Likely something you've already been reading by way of reaction: you're spot-on re: Morrison's approach to the Batman, in my opinion, and you may have something worth considering re: the proper approach to something like Facebook. Like others here, though, I don't accept every app invite I get. I'm trying to keep my profile at the level at which someone can comfortably look at it in dial-up mode. My own perverse definition of courtesy, perhaps, at play.

  • Dwight Williams Says:

    As for the Doctor's Christmas story in the Telegraph?

    Thank you.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    That's very interesting, Dwight, and thanks.

  • Peter A Says:

    Facebook makes some information available to third parties, so you need to know how to restrict access to that, or decide not to provide such information on Facebook.

    More information about this... where else? in a Facebook group!

    Peter A.