The field of social networking is an Israeli/Jewish art form...we have been perfecting it for thousands of years. Jews in general, and Israelis in particular (one can look at Israelis as super-Jews[both those that consider themselves Jewish and even those that do not], but that is a whole other conversation...), love to talk. Israelis also love to travel, mainly to find new people to talk to!
No surprise that Israel is a center of communications technology development and commercialization, ranging from IM to VoIP to wireless to [next thing to come]. I have had the honor to be in the center of a lot of this action over the past 12 years (yes, that long since we founded Delta Three (NASDAQ: DDDC), soon after the introduction of [the original] iphone from Vocaltec.
The new buzz on the block is of course social networking, with the somewhat friendly face of Facebook. And Israel has taken to Facebook in a big way. A very big way. As of yesterday (last I checked) there were over 200,000 Facebook members who identified themselves as originating in Israel, i.e. self-identifying as Israelis. That is a lot, especially given the fact that there are only 7.2 million citizens of Israel, according the Israel census bureau. If we take the numbers on face value, 2.7% of Israelis are members of Facebook. Remember, this in a country where a good 10% are ideologically opposed to the Internet.
Are a lot of Israelis using Facebook? Yes. 200,000? No.
So how to make sense of the numbers being reported?
Well, a few ways. First of all, when signing up for Facebook, and even after joining, one can set any country as your home "network." For example, my good friend, the uber-social blogger and all around tech-guru Jeff Pulver listed his home network as Israel. Now, many of us would love Jeff, Risa, Dylan and Jake Pulver to spend more and more time in the Holy Land, and while they are, formally Jeff is not [yet] a full fledged Israeli. But he makes up one of those 200K+ Israelis on Facebook. And he is not alone.
So Jeff is utilizing a very light form of identity theft. Without altering his real world passport, he has created a virtual identity that is not 100% accurate. But since we love Jeff, we are honored that in the virtual world he has thrown in his lot with Israel.
Lets move on to a more serious form of Facebook identity theft...over the past few months I have been friended by some well known political figures....and lets just say that while I would be happy to be friends with [some] of them, something tells me that these virtual friends are something other than they appear. For example, one of my "friends" is Shimon Peres. Now, I happen to like Shimon, and actually am in communication with some of his family members, but Shimon himself...but even that is welcome. I actually like Shimon, so even if not really him, proud to say I am friends with him. Now take another "friend" of mine: Yasser Arafat. Now, him, I didn't even like, especially when he was alive. Now that he is dead, a real stretch to say he is a friend of mine. But there he is, listed as a friend (for the record "he" friended me). [For more info on all these friends and more just peruse my friends on Facebook, itself a dangerous feature....]
Bottom line: it's the Wild West out there, a new frontier, and the rules have not yet been created. But they need to be, and quickly. Because while the above examples are humurous, and we love to brag about the intense interest of Israelis in social networking (after all, we are the "people of the [Face]Book"), very soon, if not already, we will see some bad stories, criminal uses of false Facebook identities, and worse. Lets hope that Mark and friends over at Facebook central will start to develop some controls in the system. Because if not pretty soon Facebook will become faceless.