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What makes facebook work?

September 28th, 2007

A new back-to-school ritual for students these days is to create and manage a profile on facebook.com. At the beginning of this summer, my friend Nathaniel convinced me to sign up and I have looked back. It is amazing, for the reasons I described in this past post. But why does it work so well?

Facebook taps two powerful human desires:

  1. Exhibitionism: filling out a facebook profile gives pleasure in defining who you are, sharing your music, book and movie preferences, etc. And as you get more involved in facebook, you may develop a sense of obligation (e..g, oh! I haven’t added a review of the movie I saw last weekend).
  2. Voyeurism: facebook allows you to peek into the lives of others. It offers a low commitment “on ramp” perhaps towards deeper friendship with new acquaintances. Over time, it is a lower barrier way to keep in touch. And what I hear is that facebook is the best way to find the cool parties. :)

In addition, facebook has developed a trust culture. In the beginning, only students with “.edu” email addresses could participate. No “creeps” could participate so facebook was safe. There is also a strong commitment to use real names and real profile pictures. Now, facebook is open but you can’t make much headway in the system if you violate the culture of trust. So, this culture is self-perpetuating.

Finally, facebook has “lightweight connectivity.” What is lightweight connectivity and why is it so cool? Consider how my mom uses netflix. She watches lots of movies and actively manages her movie list. She has also had great lists of books, movies, events and restaurants that she kept in a private diary. With netflix, she can now share at least her movie list with a half dozen or so of her friends. And just by sharing that list, she is strongly influences what movies her friends watch. What netflix does for movies, facebook does for everything social in your life. And if you are in college or recently graduated, you can be certain all your friends are on board.

Well, I apologize for dumping so much jargon in this post. Facebook is something really cool. Join now! I’ll be your guide if you want. And then you’ll understand what I am talking about, because I plan to write a lot more about facebook.

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