Recently, I was a speaker at a conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, called Daily Web. Everybody there was super-connected. Everyone was on both Facebook and Twitter. While I was at the conference, I received invites from my fellow attendees to get connected on Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn.
During a break, I was told that there are about 60,000 Slovakian users of Facebook, using a mix of the available Czech interface and the English. They were all much newer to Twitter, but the conference did have a Twitter profile, and I chose to create the hash tag for the conference, #dailywebsk. I was told Facebook is beginning to bogart the populations of local Slovakian communities and there are plans to localize Facebook into Slovakian the way that it is localized in the Czech Republic and Germany.
This got me to thinking. All of the Brits I have been meeting in Berlin are more keen on getting my "Facebook e-mail," the e-mail that would allow them to easily find me on Facebook, rather than asking for a business card. Are cards going obsolete? Or, at the very least, are your Twitter and Facebook credentials more important on your site, your business card or your name tag than your e-mail, phone and fax?
All of my German friends are on Facebook as well, sharing images and adopting the social network with as much dedication and abandon as we do in the U.S. Same thing goes with my friends from Mexico and Colombia. When I attend conferences these days, I am likely to be recognized as @chrisabraham as I am by my name.
However, I admit that I live in a rarefied air and so there might be issues of connectivity, class and access that I am not addressing here. That said, I am still amazed whenever I take some time to click on over to Twittervision to watch a global representation of the whole Twittering world.
Because of the nature of Facebook and Twitter, localization works very well. Both social networks allow you to easily communicate with your friends, and your friends are generally a lot like you. There isn't a lot of cross-talk between English-, German- and Spanish-speakers.
There are no barriers, of course, between the different locales and the different languages. The barriers are emergent. Since I have quite a few Facebook friends and Twitter followers -- 2,707 and 2,374 respectively -- I get a lot of cross-talk between languages, and that pleases me. What makes me even happier is when I visit someone's Wall, sort of like the publicly visible whiteboard that lots of students hang outside their dorm room. I often see a mixture of Spanish, German and English, all mixed up, according to each particular relationship.
The feeling I have, however, is that Twitter and Facebook are not perceived, worldwide, as American imperialism. And I think this is fantastic. Why is that? I think it's because Facebook and Twitter created relatively neutral platforms and then got out of the way. This is especially the case with Twitter, which is perfectly inert: 140 characters. No context, only essential conversation.
After being a part of the Twitter community for a little while, the whole nature of it falls away and it becomes invisible, a simple communications vehicle, disassociated from its origins: like the phone, texting, TV, electricity, e-mail, the internet! Who cares who invented these things, after all, when each nation, culture and people ultimately make it their own? And this is what is happening with Twitter and Facebook -- people are making them their own.
I really don't use MySpace very much at all. In fact, I embarrass myself every time I look at my MySpace profile. That said, every band in Berlin has a MySpace profile, just like every other band in the entire world. Globally, you're likely to see a MySpace address if the band you're digging on has an internet presence. Even if your favorite global brand has its own website, there's a good chance that they also have a MySpace address. A couple of weeks ago, I checked out three bands here in Berlin, and they all have MySpace URLs: Orchestre Miniature in the Park and Tim and Puma Mimi.
None of these bands thinks about the gross imperialism associated with their decisions; they have adopted all of this American innovation with complete ease. Back in the day, Friendster had a terribly time sorting out its business model internationally. Its success in Asia bogged down its servers while confounding its salespeople on how to make any money from all these community members who were dedicated participants but not generating any local revenue. It was probably because the worldwide ad networks and the global sales of ads were not there yet, focused mostly on the U.S. market. Now times have changed. Here I am in Berlin being served not simply German ads but also geo-targeted ads based on exactly where my data is being served.
I have taken all of this in due course and just considered it normal; however, I realized tonight that it isn't normal. It occurred to me that folks might not know how thoroughly adopted these Web 2.0 platforms are worldwide. How many people around the world refresh Facebook and Twitter many times an hour at their workplace, the same way everyone does it, even among an ever-growing population in the Slovak Republic.