Friday, September 23, 2011

Facebook - record keeping, not social networking. [UPDATED]

Before I dig into Facebook, let me share a bit about what I do and where I'm coming from. So what I do for a living is direct a team of web developers and write code with them to build web and mobile applications. Part of this job is to layout a product direction. We take our metrics on user behavior on the web sites, their direct feedback, survey data, and compare that with what customer segments we want to grow into or break into. It's a job involving a constant tug of war between consumer versus business. We balance maximizing the dollars made with the user experience and making sure we're not building for ourselves, but that we're targeting a user's pain point and in doing so, we can make some money providing a solution.

While what we do isn't terribly complicated as websites go, this general concept is true across businesses: build your products to best suit your customer segments needs. I repeatedly refer to Malcom Gladwell's TED talk here at the office, where he describes the process of perfecting spaghetti sauce while working with Howard Moskowitz. The end lesson is this: Ragu was not looking for the perfect spaghetti sauce, they were looking for the perfect spaghetti sauces. Which quickly explained is this: know your customer segments and what they need to make the perfect products tailored for each segment and understand they may not actually be able to tell you what they want. That means interact with your users to figure out the best solutions to their problems!

(I highly recommend anyone that does any work with identifying customer segments or building products watch Mr. Gladwell's talk.)

So yesterday, many of us were watching the F8 keynote at our individual computers. I had a chat window opened with four different individuals separately. As Timeline was being described, three of the four individuals said "this is creepy" in one form or another. The fourth eventually made the same comment. Only one individual came by to talk about it and said that "it was cool".

Now, I'm aware this is by no means a meaningful sample size and everyone I spoke to are web savvy individuals. However, it started me thinking about who Facebook is targeting with their updates. What's their sauce? Another individual made the observation that Facebook seems to be less about meaningful interaction and is becoming more about recording information. It's not really focusing on social activity.

This got me to thinking and I started to come to these conclusions:

Facebook is becoming a voyeur's year book. In fact, the new Ticker is letting you watch what interactions people are making with other people. Watching the ticker feels a bit weird to me. I watch my friends like other things, comments, posts, links. It's like being at the party, sitting in the corner, watching other people do things, but not interacting. I could interact, sure, but is it appropriate that I do?

Add to this Timeline. Timeline will allow me to see your Facebook life post after post, scroll after scroll, day after day, year after year.

Is that social? Or is that record keeping? Does Facebook become everyone's year book while G+ becomes the place where people talk? What I see happening on G+ is discourse using basic posts and Hangouts. I've interacted there with personalities that are some of the leading minds in their fields. I've had meaningful conversation about topics with friends and new digital friends I've made without a character limit. I can easily find others who share my interests without having to tell Google explicitly what I like, don't like, read, don't read, watch and don't watch.

Instead of recording exactly what I've read, watched, or liked, I'd rather find and interact with the author of the book, the producer of the show, or the person behind the work. That's not to say that Facebook doesn't do these things. It does, after a fashion, with fan pages. But it's not the focus of the network. Facebook is more record keeping with some social elements than a social network with some record keeping elements. G+ seems focused on actual social activity.

The Google team actually uses Hangouts with users, learning about their customers, asking their opinions, likes and dislikes, of G+. They're actually working to understand their user's pain points, or said another way, what spaghetti sauce different users want through personal interaction with them.

I don't know if Facebook's team actively does this. My understanding of their culture is that it's heavily engineer-driven (which is why I think privacy seems to be a lost concept there). Are they trying to understand their segments? Or do they and they're focusing on record keeping over social interaction?

We're seeing the fragmentation of the social networking spaghetti sauce. Some people are realizing that they don't like the record keeping flavor of Facebook and prefer the interaction flavor of Google+. Or some are realizing they like record keeping and are less worried about interaction. Some want to see pictures of their friend's kids. Others want to read and comment on the point of view a psychologist has on child development.

The focus of Facebook is getting and recording your data. The focus of Google+ is promoting discussion. The focus of Twitter is pushing bites of data to many people at once.

Choose which flavor is right for you or use them together.

Update: As information is gathered which shows that Facebook's new Timeline also tracks you after you're logged out, I'm feeling that this is further evidence that Facebook is no longer a social network first. They really want to track your behavior and lifestyle first.

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