STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Fred Wilson has a post titled "The Age Question (final post)" clarifying his position in the "young vs. old" net natives discussion his original post kicked off a few days ago (it's still the leading discussion on Techmeme this Sunday morning (see my post on this yesterday).
Specifically, Fred highlights the key point that came out of a conversation with his partner Brad Burnham:
"But Brad and I were talking on Friday about the sheer volume of young entrepreneurs we are seeing that is unprecedented in my 20 years in the VC business. Contrary to one of the comments from yesterday, this is not like what happened during the bubble.
Back then it was newly minted MBAs starting companies out of greed. This is different. This is 15 to 20 year old kids building and launching authentic web services that fill a real need in the market."
I think the anecdotal data point highlighted by Fred and Brad is important to note.
That they're seeing more 20 somethings walking into their offices STARTING companies is definitely interesting.
But what's also interesting that more 20 somethings have been ADOPTING new web services en mass, especially ones that have a key social networking element.
It is this group that have been making various startups that rely on some aspect of "social networking" in their operational models, very big, very fast through viral adoption into their daily lives.
The anecdotal evidence here is also interesting, whether one considers not just the obvious adoption of a Facebook or a MySpace, but also companies like Bebo, Skype in Europe or CyWorld (online games) in Asia.
The case can be made that 20 somethings have also been ADOPTING services with a social networking twist, faster than others segments of the population. Anecdotally of course for now.
Have you noticed that the 20 somethings on Facebook or MySpace seem to have far more "friends" than the rest of us over 30?
They seem to have "friends" lists in the hundreds compared to a few dozen for the rest of us.
But consider that younger "net natives" are in environments that are far more conducive to assembling a much bigger number of "friends" than the rest of us, after we leave school. And their key priorities in life are much simpler in that phase of their lives than after they go on into the world.
School, whether it's high school or college, provides a much more organized framework to build a large number of acquaintances and friends in a short period of time.
In particular, it obviously helps build large, physical social networks in the real world, in a SPECIFIC GEOGRAPHICAL location, than anything else we do in life after we leave school.
It's the core element that Facebook in particular took advantage of so brilliantly in it's early years. It's first incarnation was an online version of a Yearbook.
After school, our network of friends gets so much more disparate and diffused, both geographically and otherwise.
As do the priorities that drive us.
Not to mention that we adopt far more identities after school than in school (employee, boss, parent, PTA member, volunteer, being just a few of the obvious ones).
In fact, the one thing that still irks me about Facebook the most is that it limits me to just one geographical network at a time.
It's a vestigial element of it's beginnings that it still needs to grow out of.
The fact is that as adults, we have networks that utterly grow beyond geographical boundaries.
And as Seinfeld's George Costanza put it so well in the immortal "Pool Guy" episode, Facebook makes my "Worlds Collide*", whether I like it or not. That's the second thing that most grown-ups have to come to terms with about Facebook. Worlds colliding is a much lesser concern for younger net natives.
The relationships in these "grown-up" networks also get focused on matters more complex than just "hanging out" or "hooking up" with a school-mate (Dave Winer makes a spot on point on this, pointing to the relationship definition dialog box one gets in Facebook even today).
In hindsight it's not surprising that the super-successful social networks (Facebook and MySpace), that are so affecting the net world view of most of the Silicon Valley geek community at the moment, have all been fueled by these potent, real-world social networks of the younger "net natives".
It's not that us older net natives are not as "with it".
It may just be that the two generations are not an even playing field when it comes to physical and virtual social networks.
But that's the way it's always been.
We're just overly obsessed by the digital versions of these networks for now, as defined by just a small number of companies at this early stage. For now.
P.S. I've started a group called "Net Natives of Old" on Facebook for continuing discussions on this issue and it's many facets.
It's open for anyone to join and start a discussion.
* Here's how George Costanza puts it most eloquently, about worlds colliding and mushing up so many of one's identities:
"You have no idea of the magnitude of this thing. If she is allowed to infiltrate this world then George Costanza as you now him ceases to exist.
You see, right now I have Relationship George. But there is also Independent George. That's the George you know, the George you grew up with...Movie George, Coffee Shop George, Liar George, Bawdy George"
(Seinfeld): "I love that George."
(George): "Me too, and he's dying. If Relationship George walks through this door, he will kill Independent George. A George divided against itself cannot stand!"
-George and Jerry, in "The Pool Guy"
Well said, George.