Facebook is evolving. It’s been a slow shift, but over time, the site’s purpose has changed.
At first, the goal was to collect your friends and acquaintances in one place. You could see what was happening with your best friend and check in on that classmate you haven’t seen since high school.
As the site grew, Zuckerberg and company began to come up with ways to increase user engagement. After all, more time spent on the site equals more ad views, more app use, and more revenue. So, they add the news feed, increase the prominence of status updates, add messenger, create timeline, and now, create a separate camera app.
These are all great ideas. But I think they’ll also create tension for some users of the site. Here’s why.
In the book The Search to Belong, Joseph Myers talks about the various ways people find connection and belonging. Borrowing from concepts of physical space, he describes four unique “spheres.”
The outer circle is the Public sphere. These are people you know by first name or recognize their faces. You may say “hi” or share a short conversation about the weather or that recent football game. This is the same sphere where you might feel affinity or belonging in a stadium cheering for a team. You may not know the people next to you, but you feel you belong.
Moving one in, we have the Social sphere. This is someone you share a known commonality or two. You might ask them for a small favor, but you probably haven’t spent time in their home.
Next, there’s the Personal sphere. This is the group you regularly share life with. You spend time together. You’ve been in their home. They know your feelings and needs.
Finally, there’s the Intimate sphere. These are the people with whom you share your “deepest secrets, desires, needs, and struggles.” This is a spouse or a best friend. Most people will only have 2-3 of these relationships at a time. Some will only have a few their whole life. They are rare relationships that are difficult to maintain.
So when we look back at Facebook, here’s the takeaway: for most people, the more you share, the smaller the group of people you share it with.
When people started out on the site, the point was to share a little with a lot of folks. You were able to see what that friend from high school looks like 10 years later or find out if that girl you sat next to in class is “in a relationship.”
Now, Facebook’s goal is to create a timeline of your life as it happens. Share your thoughts as updates. Post what music you’re listening to on Spotify. Share pictures of what you’re doing (along with a required location – though I think Facebook will drop that soon). It’s your life – in real time.
Depending on how people use the tools, Facebook has moved over time from a public space to either a social, personal, or – at times – intimate space.
As the site changes, users’ behavior will change in one of these three ways:
- Some will use the site less and keep it as a place to ‘track’ people.
- Some will narrow their friend lists and share with a smaller group.
- Others will broadcast more information to more people.
What do you think? Does Facebook change us? Or do we change how we use the site?