My Facebook User Experience, App Awareness, and Thoughts On the MySpacing Threat
The Back Story
I deleted my MySpace account four months ago for two specific reasons – both an overload and lack of information. To be more specific, I was frustrated with spam and the inability to keep it away from me, as well as the inability to keep track of updates.
I tired of receiving phony email messages that were supposedly from my friends, but were really from bots. I was sick of deleting attempted comments that were full of spam, sick of avoiding friend requests from phony accounts created to produce spam, sick of invites to join groups created solely to attack me with spam, etc.
The last straw was when my account was hacked and I noticed that my profile had sent some Viagra message to everyone on my friends list. As, Ricky Bobby would say,
“THAT IS IT!”
Facebook = Information Freedom
Running away to Facebook has definitely helped. I’ve experienced a blissful four months of virtually spam free social networking paradise. I’ve been enjoying the news feed, the ability to customize my experience down to which updates I receive on my cellphone, who can see what on my page, and integrating my other social tools like Twitter, Flickr, Last FM, etc.
I like being able to see all updates from all contacts within my home page – it’s a huge time saver. MySpace counts on your lack of information to bombard you with ads – unless someone posted a bulletin and I subscribed to their blog, I had no idea what was going on with them and rarely bothered to check because I hated all the ads I had to go through to get what I wanted. My loose ties with quasi friends/contacts were in danger of being severed, and the internal pressure I felt to keep checking my cross country close friends profiles was starting to wear on my nerves.
Facebook helps me to stay informed, and lets me control how I receive my information – without bombarding me with ads (for now). I’m privy to social and work related news at a constrant stream, and I don’t feel this insane compulsion to constantly check everyones profiles. I just look at my feed – one page, one source of information, two hours becomes ten minutes. Slotted in my feed as well from time to time, almost discreetly, are featured ads. It’s a “byte” of information, easily digestible, and quickly scrolled past if it’s useless to me. The ads are usually supported by a richer user experience – a promo for a film may allow you to join a related group, get free gifts, or offer some other pay off for clicking. The choice is yours – click or don’t click. I’m informed but not annoyed, and my time isn’t wasted.
Kings of Sticky
But all this time saving isn’t a threat to Facebook’s stickiness. According to Tech Crunch, the average Facebook user spends two hours a day logged in. I would say my Facebook enthusiasm (as it pertains to time spent) is limited to checking the feed, leaving comments, viewing photos I note in the feed that are of interest, and reading invites.
I do acknowledge however that updating some of my Facebook apps can be a huge time sucker (bad for me when I want to go to bed or do laundry), however smart parties are taking notice of how these apps are being used, shared with friends, sending traffic to sites, and developing their own time suckers – good and bad for everyone, depending on user behavior (See Mashable’s list of “30 Awesome Applications for Facebook”).
The Status Updates and third party apps are info streams that supplement the feed. Those brief Twitterian-like glimpses into my friend’s and coworkers head spaces on a constant basis are adding to my overall awareness of who they are. I don’t take an update as an encapsulated definition of their being, but it helps to know when someone is feeling sick or needs help moving.
IDEA FOR FACEBOOK
***If Facebook were to ever offer Twitter-like tools within Facebook, Twitter would finally have some real competition. You can already make and receive Status Updates from your cellphone, and if Facebook were to offer Updates as an archive and in widget form, what need would I have for Twitter?***
How Apps Enrich Off-Line Relationships
Ilike and Movies have increased my knowledge of my friends/co-workers/business contacts’ personal tastes and recommendations (see “Facebook/Work Culture: Just Good Times Or A Requirement To Stay Connected?”) in ways that could never happen face to face. Who has time to get a movie review from each friend every time they see it? But it takes ten seconds to read one, and it’s a useful service, at least for me.
For some reason seeing my peers’ updates in my feed and the mini description almost always lures me in for a closer look. I end up caring more than I initially intended to, and that is one of the two holy grails of site use that Facebook is currently the king of:
#1 By giving users the freedom to control their experience, it entices them to go deeper into that experience
#2 Creating Successful Word of Mouth
You’ve Been Bitten!
At WidgetCon back in July, we learned that RockYou’s Zombie App was (and is still) the top Facebook application. RockYou is a great example of a company succesfully transferring it’s popularity from within MySpace into Facebook, with the help of the news feed and word of mouth.
How? …As soon as you see that one of your friend’s has added an app, why not give it a try? Simple to ad, simple to remove. App “hit” status shouldn’t be measured solely by how much page life it gets – how quickly it spreads is just as important.
Creating An Army Of Unintentional Advertisers
It’s so simple that I’ve been scrambling to try to find examples of this happening before. It’s had to have happened before! I’ll keep looking but right now, I have squat. So I tentatively say that Facebook has set the precedent for this ad model:
1 – Generating a feed source that aggregates information from a user’s “friends” activities and displays it in a central location (homepage upon login), and offers it through mobile updates
2 – Displays app additions in the feed source as updates and offers the ability to add it to your own profile from within the feed. Provides option to purchase items relating to added interests/reviews.
3 – Inserts targeted ads (based on the users interests) into the feed
The combination of these four observed tactics is a marketing/advertising formula that should have MySpace more than a little concerned. But then again if it’s not broken, why fix it? As long as MySpacers have to constantly go to each friend’s page, one at a time, for updates (beyond the bulletins) they are willingly submitting to a barrage of ads.
But are those ads truly resonating with their targeted audience?
I think as the web becomes more and more customizable, advertisers and the social networking sites they partner with are going to have to become more savvy about how they push their product. I ignore most billboards and posters in the real world, I have no interest wasting a second of my time online viewing the equivalent.
Thoughts On the Threat of “The MySpacing Of Facebook”
John Chow recently posted an interesting blog entry called “How Much Can You Make Off 1 Million Facebook Users?”
It’s a great example of how shady types are already attempting to exploit friend networks to sell unsanctioned-by-Facebook ad space (Facebook already addressed this specific situation).
I feel that marketing infiltrators will continue to prey on users interests in a myriad of ways, and Facebook will continue to be vigilant about identifying the real from the phony. As long as it stays that way, users won’t experience that much of an inconvenience. The benefit of Facebook not being owned by a huge entity like News Corp (I would assume) is that site issues like these can be addressed immediately, instead of having to travel through endless channels. The Facebook blog often addresses issues like this and calls for user input. There’s a sense that a real person is “on the line” so to speak.
So I don’t believe the MySpacing of Facebook is an external threat. If it ever is an issue it would be entirely based on company decisions from within Facebook.
So, what “MySpacey” issues would force me to leave Facebook?
1. Lack of Relevance
Another huge reason I left MySpace was that I didn’t feel I was being “found” by the right people, or coming across any new people who weren’t (sorry) complete idiots. There wasn’t any information I was getting by logging into MySpace that I didn’t feel I was already getting off-line. When I joined as a 21? (I think) year old, my social networking needs were different. I grew up, but MySpace didn’t.
Currently, I use my social networking profiles primarily to share information with work colleagues and potential business contacts. I still leave comments and send gifts to friends, but I am not overwhelmed with the urgency to create a new layout for my profile twice a week. I feel comfortable with the idea of an employer looking at my Facebook profile (I can limit access) – All MySpace offers is public or private.
As long as Facebook continues to be relevant to my life and adapts to my constantly changing user behavior, I see no reason to leave. A truly successful “lifestyle social networking site” (one that supplements all daily behavior versus targeting a specific interest, ala Flickr) has the flexibility to grow with its users and the foresight to anticipate needs and developing interests.
2. Too much Bacn
There’s Facebook bacn (ads, invitations, etc.) and friend bacn. The kind that is starting to take it’s toll on me already is friend bacn. I suppose everything in the News Feed could be considered bacn, but these are items I have singled out that, for me, define the term in the context of Facebook:
– Invites to charity functions (sent several times for the same event)
– Requests to fill out question are app (Who should I date?/What are you doing this weekened?/Where should I take my date)
– Requests to donate to charities
– Invites to “just for fun” groups
– Requests to join political groups/causes
Anything essentially that is asking something of me beyond passively looking at an image/video or reading profile updates (Status, adds/removes, etc.) is Bacn, to me.
I control bacn to a certain degree by adjusting my feed preferences. I can’t control Facebook from inserting ads into my feed, but so far they are so infrequent and subtle it’s not an issue at all.
3. Mass Friend Requests
As we all know, there are many MySpace users who are add whores. They add anyone, anywhere, anytime. You inbox becomes cluttered with friend requests from people you don’t even know. Often these people are phony accounts created to send you spam.
I don’t really see this being a problem on Facebook as they are pretty excellent about removing false accounts, and friend whoring is not an aspect of Facebook culture (from what I can tell). There are the few who insist on adding everyone they ever knew since they exited the womb, but that not the same as indiscriminately adding for the sake of adding. That is just fulfilling your bizarre need to remain in touch with everyone you ever met. Whatever, I just ignore those people.
With so much freedom to customize your Facebook user experience and the unobtrusive ad placement, I don’t see the MySpacing of Facebook happening any time soon.