The white picket fence

Facebook’s fence

Walled gardens declined in spite of users being able to connect with their friends and family online, at its peak AOL claimed more than 26 million users; today Facebook claims more an 750 million active users and is growing worldwide, a user base more than 28 times larger than AOL at its peek.  Where the two companies differ, is that Facebook started in 2004 as a site limited to a small population (Harvard University students) and allowed that population to do very little. Over time, Facebook expanded its capabilities and the population and today is a site open to everybody which according to their website helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers.”

Zuckerberg Is Watching- The Joy Of Tech

A comic from The Joy Of Tech published August 1, 2011

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s goal is to “make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share.” His goal is laudable, and ambitious, however misguided. As a platform, Facebook is neutral, neither a positive nor negative force; as a company, Facebook retains traffic by coercing users to remain on the site and following users around the web when they fail to specifically logout of the service.

Providing value in Facebook’s garden became more important after Zuckerberg’s July 6, 2011 announcement when he pivoted from considering active users to considering engaged users the important metric for measuring Facebook. Previously Facebook used active users to measure growth, Zuckerberg announced that now content shared, and the value to users would be the important measure of the site.

Zuckerberg discussing user engagement metrics (approximately 11:50-13:50)Watch live streaming video from facebookannouncements at livestream.com

Recently Facebook began expanding its garden, adding new features to keep users inside the fence. During Zuckerberg’s July 6, 2011 event he announced Skype video chat integration adding a new feature to Facebook’s already long list of ways to communicate with connections.

Common to old gardens surrounded by walls and new ones enclosed with a white picket fence is email. AOL, CompuServe, and now Facebook all have a way to email with users inside outside their network. Facebook’s internal messaging feature is a long standing tool but their new email function allows users to send and receive messages at YOURNAME@facebook.com.

Fan pages, like an internal email system are part of an effort to drive users off the open web and inside Facebook’s fence. Fan pages for celebrities, companies, ad campaigns, news organizations and reporters replace websites that would otherwise exist as part of marketing, branding, and content delivery strategies. These two new elements which users neither asked for nor needed emphasize the shift from active users (logged in within thirty days), to engaged users (measured by content shared and time on site). While before Facebook email users needed to go offsite to access email with the larger world it is now part of a unified platform just as users now need to type in a unique URL to find out information about their favorite brand, it is all part of the Facebook garden.

Facebook Set As Homepage Logoff

Facebook's prompt to set it as a user's homepage | July 30, 2011

Facebook is expanding its garden’s population not only by adding features, but by making it a user’s primary destination on the web. On two instances, July 30 and August 8, 2011 Facebook prompted me to make Facebook my homepage. In the first instance it was after I had logged out of the service and in the second case it was while I was logged in and attempted to cooerce me by displaying images of my connections.

Facebook Set As Homepage

Facebook's prompt to set it as a user's homepage (connection's information blurred)| August 8, 2011

I have no intent to make Facebook my homepage, I never have and never will. Other users though see the potential benefits Facebook provides, and sees the pictures of connections and then chooses to make Facebook their homepage. Once that is set, and if users choose to remain logged in, Facebook’s EdgeRank based News Feed becomes the first destination on the web and a potential primary source of information for users.

Facebook, messages, emails, wall posts, joining groups and any information added to Facebook constitute content and are reflected in Zuckerberg’s law of social sharing which correlates to the influence of Zuckerberg’s garden. Central to the premise of the white picket fence is that users choose to stay because that is where their friends are, and where their friends are active, and sharing in accordance with Zuckerberg’s Law.

Using Facebook’s public averages of 130 friends per user each of whom creates 90 pieces of content a month, the average user interacts with at least 11,700 pieces of content a month or 390 pieces of content a day. These figures do not include the average “80 community pages, groups and events” each user connects with since specific sharing numbers do not include how those entities share.

How these pages share is only one factor in the impact of the white picket fence garden where Facebook users operate, however these pages include news organizations and blogs making them a potential source of initial information to be furthered shared by individual users.

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