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Three ways that a conference lobby is like Facebook October 21, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, Consumer internet, performance, social networks, web 2.0.

I spent three days last week at the Web 2.0 Summit, mostly in the lobby of the Palace hotel. The lobby served as the crossroads for the conference; all attendees passed through there and many never seemed to leave it! It was a great venue to catch up with friends and industry contacts among the attendees and lobbyconners.

It struck me that the conference lobby was like a social network in three ways:

Public Communication as Performance

At Web 2.0, if you wanted to have a private conversation, you would leave the lobby and find some place more private. In a social network, if you wanted to have a private conversation you would send a private message. But if you were OK with others seeing your conversation, you would stay in the lobby, or post a public message on the Wall/Comments. The Performance aspect of communication is seen both online and offline.

Serendipitous communication

In ordinary life, you communicate with far fewer people than you’d like to. You forget, you get busy, and you don’t reach out to people that you’d like to talk to more often. But in the lobby of a conference, you’re always accidentally running into people that you’d love to talk to but don’t usually see. This is one of the biggest benefits of conferences.

Similarly, social networks bring up opportunities to communicate with people that you may not have connected with in a while. Perhaps you see one of their comments posted on a friend’s MySpace page, or you get an update on them from the Facebook feed, and are prompted to ping them. I’ve been communicating more regularly with ex colleagues and extended family because of Facebook.

Lightweight Interactions

Over the course of two days at a conference you’ll see the same people a number of times. After you’ve talked, there is only so much you can say the next time, so your interactions tend to get lighter weight. You want to acknowledge each other but not necessarily get involved in a long conversation. So you smile, shake hands, clap shoulders, bump fists, wink, wave, or kiss cheeks (gender specific!) instead. It is the same rationale that leads you to text a friend instead of call.

Social networks provide similar lightweight opportunities for interaction. Facebook’s poke is the simplest example. Although Kara Swisher thinks that many Facebook apps are childish, I think they are providing an avenue for lightweight interactions between friends. Whether you’re buying someone a drink, biting them to turn them into a zombie, hugging, slapping or tickling them, the subtext of “I’m thinking of you” is there.


People building social media companies and other companies that require user interaction should bear these examples in mind. It is hard to create new mental models of behavior for users. As always, if there is an offline parallel for the online behavior you want from your users, you’re more likely to succeed. These three elements of social network behavior have clear offline parallels.


1. Brian Provost - October 22, 2007

JLiew, way to try to rank a page for “three ways”. Niiice!

2. Dan Blank: Publishing, Innovation & the Web » Blog Archive » How Social Networks Are Like Real-Life Interactions - October 22, 2007

[…] Jeremy Liew came up with an interesting parrallel that explains the appeal of a social network like Facebook: “Three ways that a conference lobby is like Facebook.” […]

3. Dave McClure - October 24, 2007

i like the hallway analogy… that’s good. (and i was there, and did both public & private meetings 😉

re: lightweight interactions, i agree there are parallels to the offline world. altho seems like the online world allows you to scale those interactions more, so that you can do the virtual online equivalent at about 5-10x the ability of the offline.

(which leads to other problems too, but does let you manage a larger network).

good post…

4. Pascal Van Hecke - Daily Links » 2007 » October » 29 - October 30, 2007

[…] Three ways that a conference lobby is like Facebook Public Communication as Performance Serendipitous communication Lightweight Interactions (tags: facebook socialsoftware social_software socialnetworking communication networking conferencing) […]

5. facebookster blog - February 6, 2009

The web has surely become social, with the advent of social networks such as Facebook and Myspace. These networks have paved way for millions to interact, engage, and collaborate with each other in ways we have never seen before. Facebook notably has 220 million users worldwide, and growing at astounding rates. The impact for the future cannot yet be forecasted, but the doors towards deeper interactions and sharing of content will continue to proliferate.

6. lucas law center - March 20, 2009

hank you for this very timely and appropriate post! facebook is a big help for social networking.


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