It’s time that Facebook take a paradigm shift
The contribution that technology has given to our lives is really amazing and we are probably never going to give it up. I was amazed to learn that on average people spend more than 3 hours of their time on a smart phone — which is over 20% of the time we are awake. It surely means that experts who built these devices and designed the experience have done their job rather too well. We have created an experience that is so irresistible and developed expectations that people have to keep checking it all the time. On the other side, as much as these things have given they have also taken a whole lot away from us. The more connected we are, the more disconnected we also are from people and places around us.
One of the biggest challenges faced today is how we can restore the balance of a human being engaged in the real world. While still receiving those benefits of the technology in a sense that truly improves lives.
Pitfalls of the user engagement business model
Working as User Experience Developer I regularly get reminded that one of the biggest focuses of companies has to be about keeping the users engaged for as long as possible. But I wonder if user engagement should be the only crucial metric for the success of social media products. We are living in a time when tiny smart sensors and processors can fit into anything, hence almost anything can be turned into an interface. So the last thing people would want is to have every interface shouting for attention and engagement.
Shouting for engagement has to do a lot with business models, which drive projects that we work on. These models are based on clicks and time spent on the pages, or the need to have millions|billions of users as quickly as possible. It’s about time that social media giants like Facebook stop focusing on tricks to keep users engaged on random feeds of data. Speaking of that, Facebook has a great opportunity to use this paradigm shift to improve their user experience. They can contribute towards bringing in real change by seeing how people can be benefitted by social media in more useful ways rather than the annoying paths they’re headed today.
Glory of Facebook
The necessity to drive certain changes applies to all social media giants. I have been a big consumer of Facebook so I feel the most strongly about this social media platform. Facebook is amazing for various reasons! It helps people connect with school friends and distant family members. It helps people find friends that they never imagined to be in touch with again — like I did! But I believe there are also many people like me who find Facebook annoying because it’s frequently overwhelming. It gives me an overwhelming amount of information — mostly undesirable. I wonder how many of us feel the pull for our constant attention from huge streams of information that are thrown in our faces. Isn’t that why products like Google Glass failed?
We want to be in the world, not living inside the machine and let our valuable time be sucked into it.
Facebook has the capacity to keep progressing in the same direction while playing their cards for being the only major player and winner in this game (so far). But I think it is mainly because the world is getting smarter, technology is becoming more affordable, and it’s spreading constantly. More importantly people are very curious in general to try everything that comes for free. Facebook crushed MySpace, Orkut and many more similar products from different regions. That happened because Facebook provided a better experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if something else started to compete with Facebook in the future for similar reasons; unless Facebook evolves their user experience to be truly beneficial to its users.
When content becomes trash
I have over 900 Facebook friends. This list has grown so much due to the insane travel from the past few years of my life. Some people I met in the office, some while doing outdoor sports, and some simply during a fun night out. It turned out that Facebook was the common favourite option available to stay in touch, which is working out pretty well. Once in a while we get to exchange Hellos and learn about each others life happenings. But that’s not what I hope to do every single time I browse.
On the other side I have family members and close friends. Quite often their life events and updates get lost in the midst of a whole big pile of updates from everyone. I keep wondering, do I really need to see all those pictures/videos from every single person I am friends with? Off course I don’t want to unfollow them, otherwise why would I be friends with them in the first place?
What if we had more control on what we want to see, how much we want to see, and when we want to see it?
Facebook’s option where it says ‘Hide post, see fewer posts like this’ feels very ambiguous to me. That’s probably because it doesn’t know why I might not want to see a post. Say we still assume that it knows, there’s still no assurance that Facebook’s understanding is aligned with the users’ needs.
Glance-ability as apposed to screaming for everything
Providing users a lot more flexibility to organise and control what they want to be seeing is a beautiful thing. Where it is better for the social media web algorithms to start with as little as possible with an ability for users to then further drill-down. With this we save time, energy, and data usage.
I assume it shouldn’t be too hard to categorise content and allow users to benefit from that. Facebook already does that by showing adverts based on our browse and content history.
Technology for the sake of humanity
I was so thankful when Mark Zuckerberg announced they have activated a Safety Check feature for people located in disaster hit areas. That is a perfect example of technology helping humanity in a real sense. The question is — what more can be done?
Many of us know that a lot of data manipulation is going on these days. When we search for a keyword on Google we get to see different results based on which country we searched it from. It gets even more serious when those keywords are political or religious.
Facebook is big in recommending content to users. Often that content has an agenda to make money or promote something — not sure for better or worse. Can those recommendations be purely for the benefit of a user sometimes?
Following are some very shallow idea but hopefully they convey a good intension.
Like button to ‘Quite interface’
The like button is at the core of Facebook and its most recognised feature. More than 1.6 billion users click on it over 6 billion times a day, which is more than the amount of times people search on Google a day.
The like button helps drive billions of adverts constantly. But there are several reasons why Facebook’s Like button is a bad feature for everyone. Facebook relies on the Like button to publish adverts strategically based on what people like. So we can imagine that changing the Like button is like fiddling around with an airplane engine while it’s up in the air. Still, like the saying goes ‘nothing lasts forever’ and in technology ‘nothing lasts for too long’.
I’m certain that Facebook is already aware of that and working on other alternatives. It is a great opportunity for them to either come up with something that makes people feel more miserable or just try to do the right thing.
What interests people is what they click on, and they don’t have to call it out by hitting a ‘Like’ button. With that simple understanding maybe Facebook can ditch the Like button but still gather the data they need by making changes to the interface.
Technology has a major impact in shaping our society today and it is only going to grow in future. Social media giants like Facebook has a big responsibility to shape our future in a true sense that benefits the society.
Credit: Natasha Jimenez for editing.