Facebook users fall into two categories: giggly and serious. Facebook user experience could be better if Facebook took this dichotomy into account. Ignoring the difference pushes apps to be giggly and serious users to be unhappy.
Giggly 75% like pokes, quizzes, pic forwarding, fun games, selling friends, glitter on profiles. They express themselves through style and interact with friends using the mouse.
Serious 25% like bookmark import, utility apps, discussions. They express themselves with text and pictures containing them and interact with friends using the keyboard.
Because you’re reading this, and made this far, you’re serious. (Giggly users tend to not read much at all, certainly not blobs of text, and quite certainly not my blog.) Let me tell you a few things about the giggly majority and propose how to make Facebook better for both giggly and serious users.
Giggly users are
- less educated
- less likely to have credit cards
- far less likely employed
- more suburban and rural
- more frequently female.
Giggly users love to have fun with their friends, love to chit-chat and giggle, forward things easily and without a second thought. Giggly users generally don’t review applications because it requires typing. They don’t visit the about pages much. The prototypical giggly user is a female teenager who might later go to a party school to major in English.
You’re far more familiar with the serious users. Serious users are Harvard students, Silicon Valley types who use Facebook for professional networking, young professionals, etc. Serious users vote in primaries, care about privacy, understand the importance of financial planning, and are somewhat hesitant about the exposure of personal information by social networks. Serious users dislike the apps, infrequently use them, but write many of the reviews. Their notion of fun on Facebook is Scrabulous. Serious users are a bit boring. They make up for it by extreme sports and odd personal styles. The prototypical serious users are you and I. (Facebook employees and shareholders are also serious Facebook users.)
- Giggly users send a bunch of giggly communication to the serious users, for whom it’s annoying noise that drowns the signal from serious friends
- Giggly users want more self-expression tools, which Facebook won’t create because of concern about serious users, who will hate them and cry “MySpace”
Solution: Have each user and each app self-elect into giggly or serious categories and treat them differently.
API calls returning list of friends, friend selectors, etc., should, by default, only return giggly friends for giggly apps and serious friends for serious apps. There should be a way to override this with some difficulty and user involvement.
Giggly users should be given tools to create different backgrounds for their profiles with different text colors and an option to play music on load. The default text color for giggly users should be pink, on a purple background with starbursts. Facebook should partner with RockYou to enable displaying the profile owner’s name in her favorite style of glitter, and a larger font. Latest photo album should start playing as a slide show on load. Applications should be given hooks into these extra self-expression tools, allowing iLike to set the song to play on load, etc. Self-expression should reign supreme.
Serious users should continue to see profiles of any users, including giggly, as they do today, minus the app boxes. Utility and uniformity should be emphasized.
The division of the app ecosystem will be particularly valuable. Giggly users will continue to have their silly apps, but the silly apps will stop bothering the serious users.
This will create an opening for serious and useful apps, now squeezed out of the ecosystem by the higher virality of the silly apps. This will allow engaging and useful apps to flourish in the subset of Facebook users whom Facebook clearly values the most, who are far more valuable for monetization, without spoiling the fun the giggling girls are having over in the other corner of Facebook.
It is in the apps’ interests to be classified correctly, therefore self-classification will be sufficient. The division will reduce Facebook’s need to police the apps, because serious apps will treat serious users more in line with their expectations and giggly users are more tolerant of highly viral tactics.
The 75% and 25% numbers are my approximations, based on polls about the Beacon program and forced invites, on the demographics, review of statistics, and a great dose of guess. The dichotomy is not firm, and the numbers may not be exactly 75/25. There is, however, a giggly majority and a serious minority, there’s greater conversion to inviting among the giggly users, there’s Facebook’s desire to be a social utility and thus to appeal to the serious minority, and there’s the problem of higher virality of the silly apps on Facebook, combined with the desire to have serious apps.
There are two ways in which Facebook would enable engaging useful apps:
- change the distribution model from viral to directory and
- segregate the users into groups.
Directory-based distribution would be bad news as it would replace competition with arbitrary choice, reducing the overall quality of apps. I believe Facebook understands this, as they have resisted this route thus far.
Segregation of users and apps into groups is the next natural choice, and I do not believe it has been explored. The minimum useful number of groups is two, and two groups might well be sufficient.
Facebook already has good data that separates the giggly users from the serious ones. I expect that serious users have been far more likely to change their privacy settings from the defaults. Why not start from there?
Update, July 24, 2008: Facebook has made a choice. Apps will no longer compete on a level playing field. Instead, Facebook will separate them into three tiers of preference. The replacement of competition with arbitrary choice by Facebook employees will obviously lower the overall quality, except as perceived by the particular employees making the choice. Yet it’s Facebook’s platform and their choice how to run it.