Thought Experiment: Facebook and Social Importance

I was kicking around ideas like “would people pay to use Facebook?” and “if not now, then when would they?”.  Which made me think of other features that users would be willing to pay a premium for (if at all).  Some of these included the ability to create slide shows from photo albums, with geo tags, and relevant news articles linked to photos creating an all-inclusive portfolio of your activities in a given period (this would be more interactive, more exposing/social, and allow more users to spend longer amounts of time on the site).  Another idea included stats on your own personal social relevance (for lack of better terms).  Such concept would borrow from similar stats that are on LinkedIn telling users how many people have viewed their profiles in x number of days and how many times their profiles have shown up in search results.  I started thinking that users might eventually pay for such premium upgrades as well as other less articulated features… but then I started playing devils advocate and wondered what if Facebook already thought about monetizing from this avenue, but looked at the real user stats and realized that the majority of users received less attention (read: were socially less important online) than they naturally (narcissistically)  assumed about themselves.  Such a reality would devastate the world of social media (and Facebook with the most active and overall users) around the world.  Hypothetically speaking, if a majority of users found out that having hundreds of friends and actively posting to social media meant little regarding their true social relevance on social media (because fewer people than they assumed actually looked at their profiles or activities), then people might stop using it.  Let’s be honest, there is a slight selfish under theme to social because it makes us feel good…there’s some anonymity, we can learn about others in an unobtrusive/safe manner, and tell our stories to others with little typical social embarrassment or awkwardness).  The major impetus behind so much of this technology is the idea that everybody is now a celebrity with 24/7 exposure to the world.  Some people feel so inclined as to tell every minute detail of their lives believing that their friends/acquaintances/colleagues/family would find such things to be important to their own livelihoods.  But what if the preconceived notions that users are more important or feel important via social media was only due to wishful thinking?  This is great as long as the reality never gets exposed.  Yes, it is difficult just starting out on social media and even just Facebook.  True, there are many inherent tools to help new users expand their connections, but for newbies, there can be a certain new social stigma to adding ‘Friends’ on these platforms.  Just like we had to learn how to define a ‘Friend’ and sit and scour through search results pages and others’ profiles to find possible Friends to request links to, newbies have to try to catch up to get to a reasonable number of connections in order to appear legitimate and (probably) personally feel good about themselves and their social profiles.  The purely vanity nature of the youth which helped Facebook expand on college campuses from its inception (as purposefully managed by its founders) is a major piece of the magic sauce to why it has grown to 500+ million members. It’s the network effect on steroids. Introduce the harsh reality that all of a sudden the cute blonde sophomore girl in college with 1238 Facebook friends actually gets far less profile views, tags, interactions, and clicks than most people would socially assume, and you get a negative reinforcement and a chain reaction that could be absolutely devastating to the average person’s interest in social media.  We all assume that people give a damn and interact with our social selves online, or else we wouldn’t do any of this stuff.  So, what if that assumption was statistically proven to be 180 degrees opposite to what we subconsciously feel about ourselves. Assuming all of this thought experiment could be true, then the most potential for the longevity of social is to always perpetuate the perception that you should keep sharing things because more and more people are eagerly waiting to know. What happens next? Well, take for instance how few people have anything show up for themselves in a Google search…considering Google crawls the entire internet to widen its index, it is quite reasonable to believe that just as Google may not be able to locate anything of relevance, so too might the world of social exhibit an inkling of importance in social data. Figuring that the majority of human beings wouldn’t show much in a Google search, we can probably assume there are just as many people with very low statistics on social. Yes, we see stats about the average user having x many of Friends and spends y hours on Facebook, but usually that is as far as it goes.  This leads me to believe that if another player were going to try to develop and advance another major platform, it would have to increase the amount of social relevance and encourage participants to inherently (in the code and user interface) interact with more things more often. I fell like the major thing that Facebook is missing is the key element just stated.  Yes, we’ve seen extended profiles, chain-letter style updates, and apps wazoo, but what could really help social expand would be the ability to interact with those who are not directly friends and to be able to explore more about people other than what’s in the static profile fields…perhaps this is where Like/Recommend features got introduced for the rest of the internet…hmmm, we might be onto something here. Well, if this entire thought experiment were to prove true (jokingly), then I have to believe that the next natural progression for the social world would be to do more predictive features (ones such that entice you to do something on the platform) – more than ‘People You May Know and targeted ads. Perhaps this prediction of predictive features could be where we see users begin to pay for premium services…? I guess time will tell 🙂 One thing I do know is that I would love to know stats on the things my Friends like, view, post, and talk or provide feedback on in the social world.  From those stats, I could choose what things are unique to my network and what things are just ‘me toos’. We sort of already do this in the real world.  If I read something cool about capturing anti-matter, I can automatically determine who I should share that information with because they would find that interesting…but that’s a lot of social information to manage in my brain…so why wouldn’t my social media profiles intelligently tell me who would like such content? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Or what if Facebook told me what classes to take based on my social graph? Wait til you are standing in a store and your mobile device tells you that none of your friends have purchased this item before, so “be the first to own this product amongst your friends” or, “45 of your friends own this product’….Because once we can make credit card purchases with our cell phones, the point of sale systems can start tracking our social graphs and learning who we copy or who we lead. I guess what I see happening is the decreasing importance of our own profiles and the increased relevance of what we provide the stream.  Static is dead. Dynamic is key to the evolution of social. So really, our actions, not our words will represent us on social…Hmmm, gonna think further on that one, but thanks for reading so far.

~ by Adam Maikkula on November 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “Thought Experiment: Facebook and Social Importance”

  1. Will people pay for this, and when? History has taught us that yes people will “buy” technology – Bill Gates turning his $50,000 purchased software into billions. Before he decided to charge for it, these software Geeks were giving it away to the hardware companies for little or nothing. When, always revolves around the “critical number”. When you feel enough other people are paying for something, and they are getting what they want, you then will pay – whether you think you will benefit or not.

  2. Very good point. The critical mass is the key variable. I do believe that Facebook has reached general critical mass when it accounts for 1/12 of the human population. They could never charge users and just bank on ad revenues, but I always think it is fun to kick around interesting ideas for what’s next. Thanks for the comment Dr. Smith!

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