The Facebook Birthday (And Other “Aha” Moments)

I was reading Chris Fralic’s post about LinkedIn vs. Facebook, when he talked about his first Facebook birthday, which he described as a personal “aha” moment with the service after his recent birthday. I had this same same exact “aha” experience on my birthday several weeks (October 29th for those of you keeping score) when I too received more birthday wishes on Facebook than I did through any other medium on any other birthday. Pretty cool.

I’d been using it intermittently ever since they opened it up to all comers, but mainly as a means to keep myself current, but my usage has shot up since then and I am beginning to understand the attraction.

My experience with Twitter was similar — I had been a user for weeks, mainly for “research”, when one night I was having margaritas on the roof deck of the Rio in Boulder and decided to tweet what I was doing. Over the next hour, at least four friends who follow me on twitter who happened to be nearby came upstairs and said hello. Also pretty cool.

Finally, last week at the recent AlwaysOn Venture Summit West conference, I ran into Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials, on Friday morning, and he mentioned he had been expecting to see me since I had noted my attendance via my Facebook status.

The reason these sorts of things are appealing (beyond the obvious fact that we are social animals) has been much discussed, with two of my favorite characterizations of what these apps enable being Lisa Reichelt’s term ambient intimacy and Jaiku’s social peripheral vision.

But there is something else going on here too, which is that the social graph is both virtual and physical and allows the virtual world to reach into the physical world in a more meaningful way than we are used to. Sure, a mouse click can cause a book to arrive at my doorstep a couple days later, but the thrill of that has long since worn off. The fact that a simple SMS message can result in four friends dropping by to say hi while I am out for drinks, or that someone might notice (via Beacon or similar) what movie tickets I bought on Fandango and decide to meet me at the theater is compelling.

Over time our virtual and physical environments are becoming increasingly intertwined (more on this later), but the merging of our virtual and physical social worlds is happening today (perhaps leading the way) and will become increasingly more common (and ultimately pedestrian) over time. To paraphrase Gibson, the future is here now, just unevenly distributed.

There are no doubt many more examples of this melding of the social bitspace and meatspace, and I’d love to hear people’s stories, so please comment.

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