In part 1 I talked about how I believe Google has set-up incentives that are actually changing the way we behave online by making us more comfortable sharing things with the public.
Whether or not Google brilliantly designed the system with the intention to make people more public I do not know. What I do know is that Google has succeeded in something Facebook has failed to do.
After seeing the success of a public network like Twitter, Facebook began making advances toward make their users more public. They did this through unintuitive privacy controls and a constantly changing the system with the goal of squeezing as many details about you to the public as they could.
Of course people retaliated and now they have a tarnished reputation on privacy.
The Subtle Addiction
Even though people feel they are being and have been abused by Facebook, most won’t leave, and here is why. They are addicted. You can’t blame them; Facebook has designed the system to be addictive. If you look closely, all throughout Facebook you will find subtle tricks designed to keep you hooked. There are many ways Facebook does this, here are just a few.
When you visit a friend’s or a stranger’s profile page, what the first thing you look at? Probably the profile photo. And what’s the second? Whether you want to admit it or not, a lot of the time that is the friend count. Facebook has capitalized on the fact that most people like to boil down popularity to a single number and placed that number just pixels away from the photo fueling social competition.
Have you noticed that Facebook let’s you know every time your friends make friends? Why? We all make friends, its a fact of life, but why tell me every time a friend of mine makes a new friend? Well, that’s also to feed social competition. When we are told our friends are making friends, we want to also make friends. We get a little jealous, and want to get that friend count up too. Then our friends see that we made new friends and feel the same way, creating an endless cycle of competition.
What about “The Wall”, have you ever wondered why it was created? When you think about it, its kind of strange right? In real life there is no such thing as a wall. We don’t go walking around in public with a wall on our backs that our friends can leave random non-urgent messages on. I don’t know where “The Wall” originated from but the person who created the concept of this virtual public wall was a social genius. You see, in the ancient days when you were messaged/emailed privately no one could see how often you were being messaged and thus didn’t really have a measurable way to calculate your popularity. With the creation of the wall, what used to be private and unknown was now out in the open, giving people a way to judge each other’s popularity. Let’s face it, we always want to be the popular kid, even the popular kids think someone else is even more popular. Whether they realized it or not, with the creation of the wall, people began competing for messages.
Remember way back in the day when Facebook had a counter for the number of wall posts you had? Yep, boy did that cause some chaos. There used to be public wall to wall chat’s that would last ages, random wall posts inciting reply posts, and other fake attempts to increase the post count. Things got more complicated when you could start commenting on wall posts. “Do I reply in a comment or reply in a wall post? Hmmm.” This is, in my opinion, the ultimate tool for social competition. So why is Facebook trying to incite competition? The more social competition, the more you will compete, and more you will need to come back to the site.
There are many more tricks they use to keep you hooked. Like how the new profile design places friends’ photos in the profile page to increase the chance of you clicking through their photos (and viewing the add in the photo window). Or how recently Facebook started placing the chat in the right side in order to increase the chance of you initiating a chat, which will definitely ensure you keep Facebook open. There are more that deserve their own articles.
Are you angry with Facebook? You shouldn’t be. They are a company and by definition they need to do what is necessary to make money. And for Facebook, and other websites, that means trying to keep you on the site as long as possible so that you can be exposed to the maximum number of ads. More social competition, more time you will spend on the site.
In the end, even though Facebook abuses its users by violating their privacy, in the end the majority of them won’t leave because they are addicted.
But that’s not the bad news.
The bad news is that Google+ is not a place they can go to for refuge. Google+ has a flaw in its design that will, in the end, cause it to become an outlet for public personalities and not private relationships like Facebook. What is that flaw? Well, for that you will have to wait for part 3 of The Big Picture.
(originally posted on Google+ here)