After my pre-quel post on the battle for users content with feature additions and the brand promises of Google+ and Facebook respectively last week, here are my thoughts on what the Facebook changes mean.
Many users have an emotional connection with their profiles due to sharing about life events — maybe you know that the fastest growing age group on the social network is the above 55 years of age#. People use the network to reconnect with long lost friends, stay in touch with sons/daughters who moved away, and their grandchildren.
Which is why the changes include a new Timeline, more aesthetically pleasing than past redesigns, and Open Graph apps. Users can add an app's activity to the Ticker without being interrupted by a box. And anything you do in the app is added to your Timeline automatically.
Sharing less becomes more
Less is more takes a whole new meaning. Thanks to the apps and the new Timeline, anything you do on the site is now going to be pulled and shared. Facebook promise to users: Facebook helps you connect and share with people in your life.
Built into that promise is what the social network gets out it, which is the sharing data itself. In an analysis post, Tom Foremski asks a simple question: What if people stop sharing? Yes, what happens, then? He says:
I have no doubt that Facebook's insider analysis of sharing trends had identified a very big problem — and today it launched the solution at its F8 developer conference, the OpenGraph.
By all means, then. Let's make it as easy as possible for people to share with the world, and for people to see exactly what their "friends" are doing at any given moment on the network. When, in fact, you probably would choose not to share, because you care (about your friends). As Slate says (emphasis mine):
For as much as he's invested in sharing, though, Zuckerberg seems clueless about the motivation behind the act.
Why do you share a story, video, or photo? Because you want your friends to see it. And why do you want your friends to see it?
Because you think they'll get a kick out of it. I know this sounds obvious, but it's somehow eluded Zuckerberg that sharing is fundamentally about choosing. You experience a huge number of things every day, but you choose to tell your friends about only a fraction of them, because most of what you do isn't worth mentioning.
It's a great point, and it doesn't go far enough.
Go a little farther, and you start talking about relevance and utility, both incredibly good terms and benefits in an increasingly noisy digital enviroment. Yet Facebook wants mass scale and cannot wait for people to like stuff anymore — it just follows their every click and plays it back in real time.
Wait until you integrate some of those apps in your profile, and you've got your social destination. As Wired writes:
Facebook’s new class of social applications include the media-centric — music, movies, news and books — as well as what the company calls “lifestyle apps.” Essentially, instead of just “liking” things, the new class of apps will allow you to “read, watch and listen” to the integrated media services. Lifestyle apps capture most everything else
The more time you spend on the site, the more activity you generate, the more data for Facebook to mine, and sell. People like trying new things, so it is likely that once these apps and the new Timeline are in play, the network will see a spike.
The more forward-doing brands, will look to take advantage of this Open Graph. The most interesting suggestion put forth by Scott Monty is to start thinking about what your business and brand does. What is your action verb on (and off) Facebook?
What will this mean for brands that are not as big as Ford? And what about brand pages? Do you have a Facebook page? I really don't use the profile much at all, on Facebook, I use the blog's page to share business content and events.
Admittedly, I find it much easier to share questions and have conversations on Google+. Why bother with a new social network? Because we're all in search of relevance. Activity is just that, until it coincides with what we want to do. Then it becomes utility.
Will all the activity be a draw, or will it be a drawback?
The launch of Facebook Gestures means that Facebook’s partners and developers can turn any verb into a button.
Yet, just because a feature is made available, it doesn't mean people will use it. The more confusing and complicated for the average person (even for the geek, see Om Malik's commentary), the less useful, the easier to ignore and bypass.
As we see every day with sites that collect a lot of commentary in the form of reviews, it's not the size of the data, it's the nature of the query set that matters to relevance and thus action.
Chances are you hold the opinions of true, trusted friends in higher regard than those of acquaintances. The plot thickens with those of total strangers. Do you care as much about those? Anyone who reads the comments to a USAToday story online has the full sense of the spectrum… I'll be kind and stop at that.
What the future holds
Does Facebook have a long term plan? Or it is responding to the potential that Google+ may figure out how to build leverage in the convergence of search and share? Which one can be gamed faster/cheaper?
Will you, as a user, be able to extract your own data and analyze over time? Can you trust them with your memories? To remind you, their promise is to help you connect and share, not to hold your memories for you.
As brands battle for the most effective use of their dollar, will people continue to look for a new place where they can share what is relevant to them?