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Facebook apps are providing new stages for “performance” by users July 17, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, Consumer internet, facebook, Internet, performance, self espression, social media, social networks, user generated content, web 2.0, widgets.
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Its now widely agreed that the two most common behaviors on social networks are self expression and communication.

Most of the online revolutions have been driven by new forms of communication. This started with Usenet and BBSs back before there was an internet, moved through the chat rooms of early AOL, the mainstreaming of email and the instant messaging revolution with AIM and ICQ. Communication has always been a large portion of overall time spent online because it drives both frequency of visit (people check for communications often) and depth of visit (reading and responding to your messages takes time).

Social networking is no exception, and that is what has driven the extraordinary pagesviews for the top social networks. In the case of social networks, the primary communications channels are private messages and public comments. You can see how these relate to other older forms of online communication below:

communications-matrix.png

Social network private messages look a lot like webmail. Public comments on social networks are newer and more interesting. Indeed, Danah Boyd includes public comments as one of the three defining features of social networks (along with Profiles and Friends lists). Unlike message boards, public comments “belong” to a single person and are addressed directly at them. But as Danah has also pointed out (I wish I was half as smart as her!), there is also a performance component to public comments on social networks.

This is best understood with an example. Suppose it’s your birthday, and I know it. If I send you an email wishing you “Happy Birthday” then you’re happy that I remembered. This communication is part of the social lubricant on which relationships are built.

But supposed that I post “Happy Birthday” to your Facebook Wall instead. Then not only do you know that I remembered, but ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS know that I remembered as well. They may find out from the feed, or by visiting your page, but they will know that I’m a good enough friend of yours that I know when is your birthday. That is the performance element of the communication.

Indeed, Danah says that your Friends list is your best guess at the audience for whom you are performing:

The collection of ‘Friends’ is not simply a list of close ties (or what we would normally call ‘friends’). Instead, this feature allows participants to articulate their imagined audience – or who they see as being a part of their world within the site. While SNSes have millions of users, most participants only care about a handful of them. Who they care about is typically represented by the list of Friends. If an individual imagines her profile to be primarily of concern to a handful of close friends, she is quite likely to have very few ‘Friends’ and, if the technology allows it, she’ll keep her profile private. If she wants to be speaking to her broader peers, her Friends list is likely to have hundreds or thousands of Friends who are roughly the same age, have the same style, listen to the same music, and are otherwise quite similar to her. She is also quite likely to keep her profile publically [sic] visible to anyone so that she can find others in her peer group (boyd 2006).

Historically, the Wall (Facebook)/Friend’s Comments (Myspace, Bebo and others) has been the only place on a profile where another user can put something on your page. The rest of the profile has been completely under the author’s control.

However, some of the Facebook apps have changed this paradigm. A number of the most popular apps allow another user to put something on your profile, including #2 Graffiti, #7 X me, #8 Superpoke, #9 Free Gifts, #15 Superwall, #16 Foodfight and lots more. [Note: X me and Superwall are both owned by Rockyou, a Lightspeed company].

In my own experience, performance is an aspect to the use of these apps as well. I feel a certain pressure to choose something “clever” to X someone (e.g. “defenestrate”, “disdain” or “milk”), and if I’m leaving graffiti on a friends page, I try to make it good. The popularity of these apps suggests that social network users are craving more stages for their performances.

I’d be interested to hear what readers think.

Reminder: please switch your RSS feed to feeds.feedburner.com/lightspeedblog – it helps me keep track of RSS readership. Thanks a lot!

Comments»

1. Dave McClure - July 17, 2007

hmmm. so i guess what you’re saying is the keys to facebook are:
1) assembling a network of cool friends
2) blinging out my profile with cool stuff to impress my friends
3) writing performance art on my friends’ walls to impress my friends, and everyone else watching…

i think you’ve got something there😉

– dave mcclure
http://500hats.typepad.com/

2. Marco Hansell - July 20, 2007

Definitely agree with all of this. In dealing with our clients, when it comes to online communication our rule of thumb is public over private. What these social networks are allowing us to do is take a very specific and seemingly one on one conversation like “Happy Birthday” and turning it into a “call to action” or a social identifier. Without even getting into the different ways the user can say Happy Birthday via graffiti wall, voice message, X Me or other, going through the mind of a spectator I think there are a few things this message means:
1. Qualification of the “inner-circle”: To identify to others that I am apart of this users close network…I should probably wish them Happy Birthday as well
2. Social reminder: Maybe I just forgot that it was their b-day, now even if I’m 500 miles away the social network platform guarantees that SOMEONE will remind me
3. Sharing the message: I should update my status to tell people it’s so and so’s birthday
4. Sparking a new intent: Maybe I use this as the springboard to plan a b-day getaway or club night…already have a list of all the people that care from those that left “Happy Birthday”🙂
5. Expanding my social circle: See a message left by an old friend you thought was long gone…now your circle has expanded.

I know there are tons more things that can be done from that single message, but it’s just exciting to me how much social networks have turned even real world communication into communication on steroids. Having even five “call-to-actions” from someone else saying Happy Birthday in the real world would be astounding, but in online social networks the possibilities for self-expression and the “volume” of word-of-mouth is endless.

3. Chris Finlayson - July 20, 2007

In my experience, wishing someone happy birthday has lost much of its meaning due to facebook. I get messages posted on my wall, and even personal “Happy Birthdays” from people at the edges of my social sphere. Chances are they simply saw that it was my birthday on the facebook homepage.

I decided to test my theory. I changed my birthday on facebook to a random date and watched who bothered to wish me happy birthday. My close friends, quickly realized it was a joke. I did, however, receive many well-meaning happy birthday’s on my wall and in person from acquaintances.

“Happy Birthday” might not be the best arbiter of close friends on facebook.

4. Marco Hansell - July 25, 2007

haha funnt test chris. we get taught how to care more but become care-less🙂

5. Marco Vincent - August 2, 2007

Happy Birthday

6. Communication, performance and birthdays « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - September 23, 2007

[…] posted in the past about the performance aspects of social network communication, and how this affects future email use. I’ve also posted about social design for social media […]

7. More on Facebook as a stage for performance « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - October 6, 2007

[…] I’ve noted before, this is why facebook apps with a performance component are doing […]

8. Three ways that social networks are different from other forms of online communication « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - February 4, 2008

[…] but anyone else who happens to stumble across the recipient’s profile. An example I gave in a previous post is a helpful illustration: Suppose it’s your birthday, and I know it. If I send you an email […]

9. mary - April 13, 2008

“I decided to test my theory. I changed my birthday on facebook to a random date and watched who bothered to wish me happy birthday. My close friends, quickly realized it was a joke.”

LOSER! That’s so stupid! That just proves that you are an idiot that is adding to your list of friends people that you don’t really know and who don’t know you either. Keep testing how stupid and superficial you are, you will come up with concrete evidence of the obvious.

10. iPhone Application Developer - August 28, 2009

know there are tons more things that can be done from that single message, but it’s just exciting to me how much social networks have turned even real world communication into communication on steroids. Having even five “call-to-actions” from someone else saying Happy Birthday in the real world would be astounding.


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