Facebook inside out

How does one take an objective look at something they know and use everyday? In the last couple of years Facebook became so widespread that it seems almost everyone has a concept what the platform is all about. Through usage, we all develop our own understanding of what we are dealing with. Moving past those first impressions is quite hard but as I want to show in this article, can be pretty useful. Today we will turn Facebook inside out to discuss some of the design patterns it uses to attract its users. We will also delve into its business model and see how our own user experience is just the tip of an iceberg when it comes to full extent of Facebook’s activities.

Everyone is welcome. Just Sign Up!

Everyone is welcome. Just Sign Up!

Facebook is very interesting in terms of its purpose. The main purpose of its interaction is pure sociality, which usually is not enough for a social media platform to succeed [1]. It became an open space that enables many-to-many communication with a special favor towards offline connections [2]. It’s openness and character were purposefully created through the use of design patterns [3] so it is important to identify the ones that add to that final effect. For that purpose it seems vital to refer to the book “Designing Social Interfaces” [4] which explains some of the most common patterns used in social media design. First of all it’s important to notice Facebook’s registering process that is very inclusive and open to anyone. The website welcomes all potential newcomers with a clear tutorial and offers guided tours that are meant to ease the confusion one might potentially feel.

Freshly Registered? Lots of help provided

Freshly Registered? Lots of help provided

After the registration process, the user gains access to main features of the website which are, as identified by Facebook [5]: Timeline, News Feed, Photos and Videos and finally Messages. Timeline is a customizable profile page every user controls which gives them a feeling of agency and an outlet for personal creativity. News Feed is a personal dashboard design that allows anyone to keep track of their friends activities. Photos and Videos are personal streams that allow uploading and sharing of visual content. Messages is a communication system which allows both synchronous and asynchronous exchange of information between friends. Those four major services are what builds the core of Facebook, and they project a message of staying in touch with your peers and keeping them updated on your current life situation through your personal feeds. On top of those basic features the social media platform offers also functions of entertainment value such as games, applications, personal trivias and many more. Those parts keep changing constantly whereas the core, despite cosmetic changes, remains the same.

Two looks of profile page - same principles.

Two looks of profile page – same principles.

The features we just discussed are the ones we encounter on daily basis and fill them with content as users. They are simple structures that gain their meaning as we diligently input our private details into them. That said, they are just one side of what Facebook does for living. Besides offering its services to general public it also offers a much different spectrum of possibilities to developers and advertisers. It’s also worth mentioning that those 2 groups create the platforms income [5]. Through personal profiles Facebook manages to gather an immense amount of data that it further uses to offer highly customized commercial space to all sorts of companies. Currently it is one of the most discussed aspects of the platforms activities as questions are constantly raised about its ethical aspect [6].

Facebook's business model

Facebook’s business model

As for developers, they can publish apps of their own design and turn them into profit through a micropayment system provided by Facebook. Additionally, those apps are another way of gathering personal data on their users which gives the platform even more information for potential advertisers. That type of business model puts into question what is the main focus of Facebook as a company. Some imply that it abuses its users and builds profit off of their hard work [7] but at the same time Facebook states that its main purpose is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” [8]. It’s obvious that the company earns money through its users but at this point I will leave deciding whether it is a fair exchange or abuse of power to the reader.

Facebook is currently the second biggest website by traffic behind Google [9]. It accompanies us on a daily basis and sometimes we even share with it some of the most intimate details of our lives. I hope that this article helped you to see how does that entity, you have with you at all times, function.

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References:

  1. Engestrom, J. (2005). Why some social network services work and others don’t – Or: the case for object-centered sociality. http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/why-some-social-network-services-work-and-others-dont-or-the-case-for-object-centered-sociality.html
  2. Papacharissi, Z. (2009). The virtual geographies of social networks: a comparative analysis of Facebook, LinkedIn and ASmallWorld. New Media Society 11: 199-220
  3. Donath, J. (2007). Signals in Social Supernets’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1): 231-251
  4. Crumlish C., E. Malone. (2009) Designing social interfaces : principles, patterns, and practices for improving the user experience. O’Reilly Media.
  5. Facebook Annual Report (2012). URL: http://investor.fb.com/annuals.cfm. Accessed: 9.09.2013
  6. Martin. K. E. (2010) Facebook (A): Beacon and Privacy. Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics. URL: http://www.corporate-ethics.org/pdf/Facebook%20_A_business_ethics-case_bri-1006a.pdf Accessed: 9.09.2103
  7. Owyang, J. Facebook: A Brilliant Business Model. URL: http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2012/05/19/facebook-a-brilliant-business-model/ Accessed: 9.09.2013
  8. Facebook. About us. URL: https://www.facebook.com/facebook/info Accessed: 9.09.201
  9. 50 Facebook Facts and Figures. URL: https://www.facebook.com/notes/web-hosting/50-facebook-facts-and-figures/10150274471574235 Accessed: 9.09.2013

Business model graphic: http://bmimatters.com/2012/04/10/understanding-facebook-business-model/

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