Wednesday, November 11, 2009

(empo-plaaybizz) The "game" of Facebook suggestions

I'm not picking on Facebook in this post; it's just the example that came to mind the quickest. And when you have 300 million users, you tend to come to mind rather quickly.

Over the last few weeks, Facebook has made changes in their UI to encourage people to interact in Facebook. Here's one example of their "suggestions" for me, with the names of the people blanked out.

Facebook (and other services, such as LinkedIn) will serve up suggestions, and if you follow the service's suggestions, it will continue to serve up more suggestions. In essence, this is kind of like the whack-a-mole game, except that this game is complete-a-suggestions. Theoretically, you could keep on following suggestions until the service runs out of suggestions to give you. I say "theoretically," because I've never followed every suggestion that Facebook, LinkedIn, or other services have offered to me.

But I want to take a closer look at the two suggestions above.

Now the first example is commonly used in social networks - "hey, this person is already friends with your friends, so you should be their friend too." Interestingly enough, Facebook's encouragement to become friends with this person can run counter to Facebook's stated Prime Directive - namely, do not become friends with people that you do not know in real life. But when it comes to gaining advertising revenue, the Prime Directive can fall by the wayside.

The second example is a little more interesting, because it tugs at another emotion. Poor - well, let's call her June - Poor June doesn't have any friends! She's probably sitting at home, crying, because she only has 16 friends on Facebook? John, could you dry June's tears and find her some friends on Facebook so that her life will have meaning?

But I've seen other examples that go beyond emotion and get to the ridiculous. You see, Facebook also suggests people that you should poke. Now I've only been on Facebook for a few months, and I haven't really fully absorbed the entire set of etiquette, but frankly, I've never poked anyone on Facebook. I'm just not going to poke people - at least in public.

But it gets better when you consider who Facebook has suggested that I poke. There's a guy named John who I went to junior high school with. Now John was a year ahead of me in junior high, and he was much taller than me. We had a Spanish class together, and each of us got Spanish names. One of us became "Juan," and one of us became "Juanito." I think you can guess who was tagged as "Juanito." Now many years have passed, and for all I know I might be taller than the other John now, but Juanito is still a little leery of poking Juan.

However, there was another poke suggestion that could have landed me in some huge trouble, since Facebook suggested that I poke my former boss. My female former boss. I'm not sure how she'd react to being poked, but frankly I'd rather not take the chance.

So Facebook's suggestions can get a bit out of hand...but as it turns out, I've seen nothing yet. You see, the second person on the list - "June," who has too few friends - is a co-worker. I've befriended a lot of co-workers on Facebook (yes, we talk about Farm Town a lot in the office). What would happen if I poked one of them? Would I be hauled in front of HR?

Now, I certainly don't fault Facebook for its suggestions. As has been noted before, "game" actions can be motivators for people to complete tasks. However, bear in mind that there are rules to the game that go over and above the supposed rules that Facebook provides for its games.

Don't call your co-worker unpopular when she isn't. (For the record, "June" does have a number of friends.)

And don't poke tall people or ex-bosses.
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