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Why Facebook Is Flat: A Look At Its 'Most Unfavorable Underbelly'

With all the hoopla around Facebook’s new “awesome” video chat announcement coupled with the fact that it has reached the 750 Million member milestone – my question may seem rather ridiculous.

But hang in there so I can explain.

I mean that Facebook is flat at its most basic, literal sense.  I mean that Facebook’s - “all friends are created equal” - design strategy reveals a glimpse into its most vulnerable underbelly - Facebook’s usability.   

To put this idea in context, let’s compare how a twenty-five-year-old uses Facebook versus the 45-year-old woman. The younger person has lots of friends which they might organize into different lists. The 45-year-old doesn’t use lists at all since to her Facebook is the list of her friends. This very distinctive divergent use patterns between the two groups was made startlingly clear at a recent conference where I posed the question to the audience. Even I was surprised at the consistency of the results but once you think about it – the results are not surprising at all.  

In real life, as you begin your life’ journey, all friends are equal as they largely comprise a homogenous, flat group of school friends. It’s no accident that this model reflects the life stage of its 22-year-old creator. Yet as we mature, our social networks become more diverse, richer, and multilevel. We naturally organize these networks along distinct functional lines – kid’s school network, business friends, hobby friends and so forth. We then shuffle these networks in real time as the need arises sometimes mixing it up to achieve a certain task.   

But no such sensitivity is baked into Facebook. Facebook's environment funnels everybody into the same network with no accommodation for the necessary and useful ability to compartmentalize our “friends.” This gap is irksome and one mentioned in this ABC News article from Jon Swartz :  Facebook says membership has grown to 750 million.

One could argue that Facebook lists are a way to manage your friends. But I suggest that this feature is ill-conceived much in the same way a feather will eventually scratch an itch not because the feather worked but because the need passed.

The power of Facebook was that, initially, it was a “flat” communications platform for trusted friends. However, one would hope that Facebook’s usability would begin to mature to reflect its users’ evolution. Instead, again we see Facebook simply adding more features (e.g. video chat) to keep our attention much as one might throw more toys into a playpen to keep a young child distracted. Yet, as any experienced parent can tell you - this approach does not work for long. You have to keep it up with more and more toys which eventually won’t work at all – no matter how glittery.

Distracting us with video chat toys does not obscure the reality. Our networks are not flat but Facebook is. How EXACTLY is that supposed to work?

 

Join The Conversation

  • Jul 8 Posted 5 years ago Joey Farr (not verified)

    The evolution of social media sites is always good. Giving best choices to consumers and providers to become better.

  • JudyShapiro's picture
    Jul 7 Posted 5 years ago JudyShapiro

    Hi Harvey -

    Therein lies the heart of the matter - Facebook usuability is truly based on how a 22 year old sees the world. For those of us who dont need acne creame anymore - it's a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. 

    Feature creep has been an ongoing problem for Facebook and just about a year ago (in June) I wrote a post called "A stranger in a strange land" as a way to express how difficult the FB world can be for most of us." on my blog http://trenchwars.wordpress.com

    It seems incomprehensible that users have to adapt to how FB wants you to use instea dof the other way around... It'll be interesting to see what happens when there is a viable alternative... :) 

    Judy Shapiro

  • Jul 7 Posted 5 years ago Dennis D. McDonald (not verified)

    Harvey, I think you are pointing out a basic flaw in Facebook -- it was not designed to make what you want to do -- compartmentalize -- easy. You shouldn't have to hire a consultant to help you figure out how to do that; to be required to do so is evidence of a fundmantal product design flaw. (And, yes, I'm a consultant!)

  • Jul 7 Posted 5 years ago patmrhoads (not verified)

    William,

    You make some decent points in your comment, but I think your response is both a bit arrogant and off-putting. If I were in fact in need of Facebook strategy (I'm not), seeing your attitude towards those who you think know less than you would cause me to look elsewhere for assistance. I'm certian you're not the only expert out there, and I'd rather find one who uses at least a bit of grace in the way they communicate with others.

    -Pat

  • Jul 7 Posted 5 years ago William DeRosa (not verified)

    This is another example of "The bike is broken because I can't pedal with my hands." The lists that one can create in Facebook are paramount to creating circles of friends in your life based on what you want to share. Privacy settings in correlation to the lists creates a functionality that is easy to implement, once someone actually takes the time to learn how it functions.

    Of course this has to do with age!!! The article is a regurgitation of known quantities within the demographics of "who uses what features" on Facebook. And of course, the younger generation is growing up in this world, while th eolder generations are adapting.

    My mom "happens" across friends, while my teen daughters actively seek friends out.

    If people need help with how lists and privacy work together, feel free to contact me. I own a social media marketing agency and are Facebook experts. http://www.facebook.com/talkingfinger

     

     

  • Jul 7 Posted 5 years ago Joseph G. (not verified)

    In a way, the "flatness" of Facebook's design is something that Google is looking to improve on with Google+. Their "Circles" feature (intended to help users better manage and categorize their network of friends) may prove to be a big selling point. Whether it'll be big enough to direct attention away from Facebook's shiny new "video chat toy" (excellent analogy, by the way) remains to be seen.

  • Jul 7 Posted 5 years ago Harvey Gardner (not verified)

    Facebook has a fatal flaw for me.  I can make lists, and I have a business page.  However, I can't figure out how to keep my friend-friends from receiving my business-friends' posts.  For business purposes, I'm having a difficult time with it.  If I send my email newsletter to business clients and prospects to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkIn, it goes out to my friend-friends on Facebook.  How do I stop that?  This is a real vulnerability, in my opinion.  I don't want to continue blasting Aunt Sally with business messages!

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