Facebook: people vs users

Earlier this week Facebook notified the world that it had stopped using the term “users” for its, well, users. It is now using the term “people.” Facebook’s Director of Product Design, Margaret Gould Stewart, said “we don’t use the term user at Facebook. We kind of stopped using it because we want to call them people, so we actually have kind of banished the term.”

It’s easy to mock this change as just a superficial internal marketing kind of change. It’s also easy to point out the obvious in that of course users are people, what else would they be? But it’s also interesting to note that it is the Director of Product Design who made the statement, someone who truly has the power to influence how and in what direction Facebook goes. With the right leadership this change can go beyond skin-deep naming and tap into Facebook’s real strength.

Facebook's people demographics. Everyone is there. Source: Pew Research

Facebook’s people demographics. Everyone is there.
Source: Pew Research

And what is that strength? Everyone is there. And by everyone I mean my mother, my aunt, my cousins, my family, and my close friends. My lesser acquaintances and former classmates and coworkers are there, too, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But unlike any other social network, everyone is on Facebook and it has the userbase, sorry, people-base to be the most important social network in my life by far.

But they’re squandering that advantage every day. How?

  1. Uninteresting newsfeed. Facebook uses their optimized newsfeed algorithm to show me updates not from the people I really care about but from the people their algorithm has figured out that I should see. Here’s the bad news: the people I care about and the people I see updates from are not the same. I see more updates from former coworkers than I see from my friends and family. I don’t know enough about the algorithm to analyze why, but I do know that I am not seeing updates from the people I care about. Granted, that could be not because of the algorithm deciding what to show me but because this group is not sharing enough. Which brings me to…
  2. Undersharing. It seems like there are not enough updates from the people I care about. Are they not being prompted to share? Being of the non-teen and non-millennial ages, perhaps not being naturally inclined to share online, does Facebook do enough to encourage them to share? Is it easy enough for them?
  3. Triviality. Finally, to fill up the space left by under-sharing, Facebook creates updates driven by activites on Facebook. There are updates that inform who liked content shared by their contacts and what new people they connected with, both of which don’t interest me.  By creating status updates without any actual user-generated content, the newsfeed has become trivial and uninteresting. Additionally, because of the mysterious algorithm, these “fake” updates could be taking the place of “real” updates, actual content created by people I care about.
Many more people use Facebook than any other network. Source: Pew Research

Many more people use Facebook than any other network.
Source: Pew Research

It’s interesting that Facebook has not only the necessary ingredients to make it the place I would go to every day, but it also has a lock on those ingredients. The numbers show that many of the people using Facebook don’t use any other social network. Let’s put it this way, I haven’t seen them on Google+, Ello, Pinterest, or even Twitter. They are only on Facebook and time has shown that they are not planning to pack up and leave any time soon. So why can’t Facebook make this work better?

Finally, the Atlantic quoted Ms. Stewart as saying “As somebody once said, it’s kind of arrogant to think that the only reason that people exist is to use what you built. They actually have lives, like, outside of the experience they have using your product. So the first step to designing in a human-centered way is to recognize that they’re humans.”

It’s a good start.

Note: Pew Research usually updates its social media numbers in January. It will be interesting to note if these numbers have changed significantly over the last year.

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One thought on “Facebook: people vs users

  1. Pingback: Flickr, Facebook and Instagram: pondering how and why successful products should pivot | What it all boils down to

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