The strange appeal of Facebook

July 30th, 2007

In recent weeks (since mid-July, really) the social networking website Facebook has become the centre of a pretty substantial hype storm. Whenever you see discussions of new websites in the mainstream press, something different is happening.

So, why?

On its surface, Facebook is not much different than the previous champion of social networking, Myspace. But it does have a couple of advantages. First, it’s quite hard to make Facebook look ugly, while it seems to be the default look for pages on Myspace. And second, it emphasises the sharing of information about your friends, to the point where the main page of Facebook is the one that gives you the information on what your friends have been doing o the site lately. This is quite different to Myspace, which is much more selfish in design.

So Facebook is a very creditable replacement for Myspace, and one that is going to appeal much more strongly to older users. And that’s worth a little bit of hype, given the hype around Myspace.

But what really makes Facebook so clever?

Part of the reason that Myspace targets teens is that they stay engaged on the site – posting pictures, blog entries and so on. Older users tended to peter out after a little while as the thrill started to fade. The same basic problem exists on Facebook, but with one clever addition: Applications. These little boxes you can put on your profile page provide games (many of them social in nature) to play, activities to participate in, art for your page and so on. They greatly expand the appeal of Facebook by providing a continual stream of new things to do on the site and your profile.

It won’t last forever, but by keeping users more engaged Facebook has been able to keep the usual turnover down and its growth has been phenomenal.

And that’s why the hype.