Community Design Critique

Isabella Ferrer
Apr 21, 2015 · 7 min read

Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” Ten years later, the mission remains the same for Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking site. However, there are many issues that the online platform currently has to deal with to provide the most pleasant interaction within its users. I will be presenting a critique on Facebook , stating their attributes and flaws as an online community. Most of my work is based on the book of Robert Kraut and Paul Resnick “Evidence-based social design” Building Successful Online Communities.

The Facebook website was launched on February 4, 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow college roommate at the University of Harvard. It started as a “hot or not” website for universities students to rate their physical appearance and since then it has grown and changed drastically. As of January 2014, Facebook had 1.23 billion users that accessed the site monthly and despite user dissatisfaction with many of the changes made in recent years, efforts to migrate to similar sites have been unsuccessful.

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“Connect with friends and the world around you, sign up, it’s free and always will be,” is the first thing you will see when you access the Facebook website. From this sentences, you can deduct two of the most significant features of this online community, which makes it popular and successful to its users. First of all, it provides a sense of belonging to a broader community and secondly, a mutual commitment between Facebook and the individual once users sign up for an account, free of charge. Joining an online community can be seen as a commitment because once a user is part of it, the users feel the necessity and commitment to reply, post and comment on their friends messages or activities to keep their online community active and popular.

Positive attributes

Facebook has become a successful community in the past years, because of several reasons that will be discussed in this article. At the launch of the website in 2004, most people were attracted to join only because it provided a huge forum for people to find individuals they had lost contact with, which was not possible over ten years ago. Nevertheless when a user joins Facebook and have used it for a while there are a lot more reasons that cause individuals to keep using the platform, rather than being used only for social contact. “Enculturation” motivates and familiarize individuals within the online community and cause users to contribute more when they feel comfortable with the platform.

Facebook is a widespread community that functions as a partnership between the site and individual users, a bond that requires compromise in the way connections are made and how people observe and interact with each other, that’s why Facebook has created a Statement of rights and Responsabilities with a code of conduct, in order to maintain harmony among its users. Facebook provides a level of social contact that impacts the individual user’s identity construction. It gives the users a sense of control, power and ownership as they can alter and write on their page whatever they feel like commenting or posting. In order to sign up in Facebook users require to upload a picture of themselves and their personal information, as Kraut and Resnick stated “verified identities and pictures reduce the incidence of norm violations”, which is what Facebook aims to acomplish by requiring users to reveal their true identities in the site before signing up.

Social contact as said before, is mainly the reason that Facebook was created once it evolved beyond the narrow purpose for which it was originally created. People want to belong and Facebook allows users an infinite environment with potential connections to users that the individual either knows personally or not. Facebook encourages people to broaden their networks by continually providing suggestions for “people you may know,” or “artists you may like” that uses programming to identify individuals with which one has one or more mutual friends or activities in common.

Facebook uses another principle described by Kraut and Resnick by appealing to users intrinsic motivation. Users in Facebook tend to respond more to a request or event sent from a friend or someone they know than from a stranger. Intrinsic motivated actions are driven by an interest in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external forces or rewards. As Kraut and Resnick stated, “Intrinsic motivations are driven by internal rewards that are tied to the commitment of the user to the community and with respect to others members in the community”. Facebook is driven by intrinsic motivation, which is a result from inside the individual. Participation and communication increases if the individual who sends out the invitation is familiar to the user and will likely respond to the activity in a short time.

Feedback is another important and positive component of the Facebook community as it stimulates users to stay on the site. Facebook allows feedback for users in numerous ways, for instance, it allows people to post content they want others to see and friends can like or comment on that post. Liking, similarly has become shorthand for many different responses to posts about people’s lives providing immediate positive feedback but there are also opportunities for criticism with respect to commentary on posts or the ability to “unfriend” or block users.

Negative attributes

Even though Facebook is a very popular and successful community, problems with Facebook’s level of openness are perhaps inherent; it is a trade-off to include so much different content and the ability to choose one’s interaction whereas a site like LinkedIn is much more private and contingent on prior knowledge of connections to access information. Facebook’s privacy settings can provide real privacy but it seems to defeat the purpose of membership on the site as people from their past are incapable of searching for them. Privacy settings taken to the extreme do not allow a user to search, receive or send private messages from other users which are not friends with, consequently making it even harder to confirm a user’s identity before reaching to them or sending a “friend request”.

The openness of Facebook does create problems as the website attempts to prevent negative use of its medium. For several years, hackers have been accessing profiles, apps release information not only about the user but the user’s friends and more recently scammers create fake profiles in order to have access to friends lists and personal information. As Kraut and Resnick wrote, “Redirecting inappropriate posts to other places create less resistance than removing them”. Usually, when there is a photo or content that is inappropriate and violates any code or regulation of Facebook, users tend to report the content, and after consideration from the Facebook committee, the content is likely to be erased. Followed by that action, the Facebook group tends to send a message to the user explaining why its content was deleted. I believe simply deleting the content and infuriating users who not believe they posted anything unfitting is not healthy for a community. Enraged users, latter on can become trolls, or harm the community because of resentment. Instead Facebook should create a place where all the inappropriate posts can be redirected, so that the public would not be able to see it on their newsfeed, but it will still be there, just in a different section or domain while at the same time avoiding controversy within the users of the community.

Facebook has the ability to deactivate accounts, but not to delete them. I believe that this situation could be improved because it is considered a problem by many users who want to permanently delete their account.As Facebook users just need one click to sign up, it should be the same to sign off the community. I consider the process Facebook has to deactivate accounts to be very problematic and slow, they asked you several questions to know why you are deleting your account, which makes the process much more longer. The process of deletion should be simple and to the point, without the need to fill a questionnaire. As Kraut and Resnick noted, “Simple requests lead to more compliance than do lengthy and complex ones”.

Exiting is one of the most important parts of online communities and it should be made simple to anyone involved. As Joseph Reagle wrote in his article, “410:Gone”:Infocide in Open Content Communities, “There can be many, mixed, or even contradictory motives for infocide — like any human behavior. It can also be difficult to discern what those motives are as the subject has (often) disappeared. However, I discern at least three types of (not necessarily exclusive) infocide: exhaustion, online discontent, and privacy concerns.” Similarly, Facebook users most of the time tend to deactivate or comitte “infocide” on their accounts due to privacy concerns.

To Conclude

Facebook has done an excellent job of creating a community that promotes a sense of belonging, increases social contact, while allowing autonomy and control in the production of their social identity, which may often be a homogenized version of real life or an alter ego entirely. Eventually, the failure of Facebook to effectively address the issues of hacking and leaking private information to third parties suggests that Facebook’s commitment to profit and creating new revenue streams is sometimes greater than the value of the community. Community involvement on Facebook is voluntary and based on a desire to increase connections and be able to participate in people’s lives whether locally or on the other side of the world.

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By : Isabella Ferrer

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