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Is Facebook elitist?

It’s easy to mistrust a network that not everyone is allowed to join: Skull and Bones, the Bilderberg Group, the Stone Cutters — you get the picture. But what about a network that just feels exclusive?

There was a time when Facebook really was exclusive — limited to students at the nation’s most prestigious universities. I can remember a friend of mine having to organize a petition in the summer of 2004 to bring the network to my lowly alma mater. But by the fall of 2006, the network was open to absolutely anyone.

Still, there’s talk of class distinctions between Facebook and MySpace, as if one were clearly walled off from the other. On the one hand — the data doesn’t lie, as one group of users does make substantially more money than the other. But then again, both networks are open to everyone who wants to join. The only thing stopping you is the number of people you know on a given network, because most people won’t sign up until a few of their friends do. Facebook began as an elitist group, and it is taking a while for it to gain critical mass among non-college-educated users. But I think it will get there eventually.

In the meantime, I’m not convinced that network segmentation is a bad thing. Smaller, more focused networks are often more useful. It’s easier to reach out and meet new people on a network when you’re all there for a common purpose. When someone I don’t know tries to friend me on Facebook, I hesitate. Why does this person want to talk to me? When it’s an invite on LinkedIn, I know this person is looking to connect with me in a professional capacity, so I’m much more likely to accept. As long as you’re choosing which networks you belong to (and not the other way around) I think that’s both productive and fair.

Is Facebook elitist? Am I right about it shifting over time? Are tightly focused networks a good idea? Where does Twitter fit into this discussion?

Image credit, KLH49, via iStock