Farmville Fever

Since being founded in February of 2004 as the online equivalent of a yearbook at Harvard, Facebook has acquired more than 400 million active users worldwide, half of whom make a daily visit to the site.

Not only has Facebook exploded among university and college students – the audience the networking site was originally geared towards in 2009, the Inside Facebook website claimed that 45 per cent of Facebook users were over the age of 26.

“Initially, you had to be invited and also you had to be at Harvard,” explained chair of Laurier’s communication studies department Andrew Herman of Facebook’s expansion. “And then they opened it up to other universities and then to high schools.”

Facebook has enticed all age groups with the promise of finding new friends, rekindling old friendships and networking across the globe.

“It makes feeling connected easier even though the quality of the connection is really ephemeral,” said Herman.

Social networking sites like Facebook were even said to have had a hand in mobilizing the youth vote during the last U.S presidential election, a phenomenon Newsweek named the “Facebook Effect.”

Now the site harbours video games that link friends and strangers through the excitement of farms, wars and in support of causes.

The means through which Facebook can connect the millions who log on every day seem never-ending.

This networking tool touches everyone, or at least leads people to believe they are involved in a great web of connectivity.

“There’s an ease of social connectivity. There’s the ease of communicating where you’re at, what you’re doing, which gives the pretence of social connectivity,” said Herman.

My experience with Facebook

I have often fallen victim to the intense social connections I feel with my acquaintances across the globe from South Africa to Japan.

And yes, I play Farmville. I have fallen victim to almost every entrapment Facebook will allow. In a weird and paradoxical way, I tell people it keeps me sane. Planting and harvesting and gaining money to buy big houses and more land mkes me feel like I’m accomplishing something during what is sometimes a monotonous day.

But in no way had I any idea that so many people not only played Farmville (I don’t have that many neighbours, I’ll admit), but hundreds of online games via Facebook.

I swear, before you judge me, I am not alone – hear me out.

According to the official Facebook Statistics web page, 250 applications have more than one million active users.

According to Herman, Facebook applications make the site “sticky” for users. “Games are a way of keeping people’s attention and keeping them on Facebook,” he said.

And as a result of my love – I mean enjoyment – of Farmville, I decided to diversify my application usage to discover what all the fuss was about.

To my surprise, there were 76,039,329 monthly Farmville users when I first started my personal experiment in mid-February. By Monday of this week, that number had gone up by over seven million.

This got me thinking about why we engage in online games that are generally menial and, for most purposes, just time-wasters.

The top ten applications, with the exception of Facebook for iPhone and Causes, are just that: epic wasters of time.

From running your own café to being a mobster or even owning a zoo, one can experience the utmost in time wasting on the Internet’s greatest website for procrastination. What more could you want?

So I signed up. Petville, Fishville, Farmville, Happy Aquarium, Birthday Cards, Café World. Too bad I don’t have an iPhone or I would have joined that app too.

Six of the top 10 Facebook applications are run by the Zynga Game Network, which was created in 2007 with a “vision of connecting the world through games.” Their games can be found on social networking sites like Twitter, as well as for iPhone.

From the onset, I was hooked. It was before reading week and I had plenty to do, but I couldn’t stop myself from checking in on my café or feeding my newly bought fish.

The games hooked me with the promise of gaining points for experience, even going so far as to give extra points for logging on daily.

And if I didn’t log on? My crops would wither, my fish would die, my food would spoil – the horrors!

Then I hit my first wall: I had no friends. No neighbours. No fellow chefs. Not enough of my friends played these games to give me the experience points I needed. Which made me think: who exactly uses these games?

It’s safe to say that Facebook is no longer exclusive to university students. The extensive use of applications by my younger (and surprisingly older) friends on Facebook exemplified the expansion of the site and its growth outside of the university realm.

Then there was the social ridicule – as a personal goal, I tried to “publish” updates to my Facebook every once in a while when a game asked me too.

Obviously this is a bit of a marketing ploy for the owners of their game and it also creates a “group play” atmosphere between friends. Instead of gaming partners, I mostly got hilarious comments back.

However, I pressed on. Avoiding doing homework made the most basic online game enticing, especially when I could reconnect with old friends via restaurant or by feeding their chickens. Having my own café when I am a hazard in the kitchen was fun, and playing catch with my pet in Petville was amusing.

But soon enough my attention to my fish, crops and wide array of zoo animals began to wane. I couldn’t keep up with all of the applications, which is perhaps where my experiment went horribly wrong; or maybe my procrastination has a limit.

Even my original love, Farmville, began to be neglected.

On average, I logged on to each of my newly-adopted applications three times during days where I was attempting to do schoolwork. Like most methods of procrastination, my applications were severely neglected when I was busy with things that didn’t involve homework.

So in the end, I was left with a lot of time wasted on pointless applications to figure out for myself that there were better ways I could waste my time, like simply using Facebook for its original method of procrastination: creeping.

What you didn’t know about Facebook

–More than 400 million active users

–About 50% of active users log in daily

–About 60 million daily status updates

–More than 3 billion photos uploaded each month

–The average user has 130 friends and gets eight friend requests monthly

–Average user spends more than 55
minutes per day on Facebook

–In 2008, Facebook shares valued the company at $3.75 billion, although the company is speculated to be worth $15 billion

Most-used applications

Farmville: 82,580,911

Static FBML: 46,827,021

Birthday Cards: 41,904,049

Cafe World: 30,032,716

Facebook for iPhone: 29,438848

Texas HoldEm: 28,332,917

Slide FunSpace: 25,630,033

Happy Aquarium: 24,915,971

Mafia Wars: 24,704,179

Causes: 24,317,292