006 - 1. The 'Blue Pill' Known as Facebook
Buckle up for this one...we're about to take a trip down one hell-of-a rabbit hole! In this several-piece series on Facebook, we will discuss the social media titan from three perspectives...the user (product), the business (customer), and the mothership (Facebook's algorithm). We will breakdown experiences, expectations, inputs and outputs as each and every action is documented, segmented, bought, and sold. The first few segments of this series focus on Facebook's commodity, asset, raw material, data source, and finished product.
Part 1-A: The User
Did you have a diary or journal as a kid? Do you still use one today...perhaps in the form of a blog/vlog? Have you ever poured your thoughts, emotions, feelings, desires, or fears in the form of art or text? Sure you have...we all had at least one English or Fine Arts teacher that made us do it. For some, a forced outlet of emotion sharing was silly. For others, it became very therapeutic...ultimately, addicting. I know of some people that have started writing in a journal at 6 and continue to this day. The strange part is...they've never revisited their thoughts...never bothered to relive the emotions they were feeling in any given moment. All they knew was how important it was for them to document their day. One of the common themes with diary entries are that they are personal, private accounts of the world through your vantage point...thus, not meant to be shared. Have you been around someone who's journal was invaded? All hell breaks loose! So when did this simple, private, and secure form of thought-pouring become a public spectacle? When did we start craving affirmation and adoration from people we know, friends of people we know, people we don't know, or businesses that we could care less about? The answers of 'when' may vary, but the 'how' is as clear as that little blue thumbs up icon.
The history of Facebook can be researched elsewhere. There are documentaries, books, articles and featured films of how it all started. There are many opinions of what Facebook has become today...but this series is not meant to sway your opinion on the platform in any way...it is only meant to explain the business model to you in a way that perhaps you haven't heard before. On the surface, Facebook is no different from any other business. It identified a need/want, invested in building a platform offering a service to satisfy that need/want, accumulated raw materials, transformed those raw materials into products/assets, and monetized off the selling of those assets. As we pierce through the surface, however, we learn that you and I are those assets!
Think back to when you first created your Facebook account. I have to be honest, I thought it was childish at first and boycotted joining for several years. Eventually I caved...entered my name and email address...read through the legalese of their terms & conditions...and finally hit JOIN...thus cementing my name in Facebook's history forever. Once inside the mainframe, I ran through the series of onboarding questions and personal information inputs. I did not know at the time how valuable that information was...and I was free-willingly handing it over on a silver platter. Wrapping up the setup phase, I selected a nice photo of myself doing something years back, and was left on a digital desert island called my 'wall'...no friends...no posts...just an empty screen with an input section asking me 'What's on my mind?" 5 minutes in...and already I thought I had made a mistake. Perhaps adding some friends might make the experience better...so I checked out the friends section and began looking through the suggested friends list that Facebook had displayed for me. Wouldn't ya know it...most of these people I knew! Some were closer than others, but non-the-less...I had a list of digital friends to build...so I started adding anyone that was familiar to me, yes even that dude that I met that one time at that place I almost never go to...him too!
Let's take a pause from my trip down Facebook-Memory-Lane and explain this setup. The moment I joined, I became a new piece of raw material for Facebook. I was a fresh data source with no corruption nor conflicting input values. When I began inputting my information, items such as birthday, high school, university, places I've lived, current place I live, job, relationship status, etc...Facebook began to segment these data sources into specific compartments. The first output of these data sets was the list of recommended friends. Facebook compared the inputs of those people to mine, and concluded that there is a theoretical connection. My accepting these recommendations affirmed Facebook's prediction and fed into the system even further...thus leading to even more predictions and recommendations. Before I get back into my next action items, it is vital to understand this fact...all action items taken on the platform segment the user into a searchable category. Yes, it was important enough to put in bold text...read it again if you must!
Back to my day 1 experience. As my friend list grew and grew, I started to see something called 'updates' appear on my wall. "Johnny is going to the mall"...followed by a comment of..."Chillin' at the mall today, #shopping". Once again, I questioned my maturity level of wanting to be a part of this. Not only could I care less about knowing my friend is at the mall...I cared EVEN MORE LESS about the fact that he felt the need to declare that he was 'chilling' there...and what the hell does that number sign mean? Johnny is my funny example, but the truth is most of my friends were using the platform for this purpose. Remember, this is a time where smart phones weren't as widely available as they are today, therefore, the Facebook app was negligible. Most of these posts had to be entered on your home computer before leaving the house. Regardless how I despised knowing the fact that my buddy was 'chilling' today at the mall, I swallowed my pride and 'liked' it. The simple act of engaging with that post once again segmented me into one of Facebook's infinite categories of user behaviors.
On the next piece, we will continue to discuss how the various evolution of action-items Facebook has added over the years have drawn users to engage more frequently and input more detailed data sets. We're just getting started here...so be sure to check back in!