The Curious Case of Facebook’s Innovation Dilemma

[The following is a guest post from Chad Wittman of EdgeRank Checker.]

Facebook WorldFacebook strives to connect the world.

Mark Zuckerberg has grandiose ideas regarding the future of connectivity as seen with the News Feed, Beacon, Open Graph, EdgeRank, GraphRank, Graph Search, Poke, Messages and more.

From a techie developer’s perspective, most of these innovations are feats of engineering, especially when considering the magnitude of data needed to be manipulated.

Yet we see the average Facebook user asking for more control of the News Feed, continued playing of FarmVille and endless memes. There is a disconnect here.

The disconnect is between how users actually use Facebook, how they think they want to use Facebook and how Facebook wants people to use Facebook.

This is an issue. A BIG issue.

Why Do People Use Facebook?

Facebook has become the evolution of email. A means to stay connected to one’s digital self. It has become the hub of your online social identity.

Facebook has become a mainstay in our digital lives, while smaller niche sites provide us with discovery and time killing behaviors. Facebook is similar to email in the “coolness” factor. Not many people wake up in the morning excited to check their email, just as many are finding they’re not as excited to check Facebook anymore. It’s a habit that needs to be done.

People use Facebook continuously, but it’s losing its edge when it comes to excitability. And that’s okay.

How Do People Think They Want To Use Facebook?

I spoke with a former Facebook employee who chatted about the News Feed. Facebook is listening to disgruntled people complaining about the News Feed and its control. When the News Feed first launched, people were creeped out by how good it was at identifying content they had affinity with.

What did Facebook do? They implemented a touch of randomness to the EdgeRank algorithm to de-creep the News Feed.

Facebook users asked for more control in the News Feed. Perhaps a more chronological order. Facebook tested this on small test cases.

Guess what happened? The people who had less of the EdgeRank algorithm ended up using Facebook less, engaging less and overall having less impact on the network.

This is an incredible bit of information. People think they want it to be a certain way, but actually act contrary to their perceived beliefs.

Psychology is a hell of a thing.

How Facebook Wants People To Use Facebook

Facebook envisions themselves as this incredible platform that people spend significant amounts of time on. Aside from racking up ad impressions from Average Time On Site and Page Views, this is what Facebook used to be.

Facebook wants people sharing and discovering everything within the Facebook platform, and understandably so. In some areas, they’re doing a great job (think Spotify and Music). In others, they’re not (think SnapChat vs Poke).

They want to be involved in every facet and they want users to want to be on Facebook.

The Catch

Here’s the catch: People don’t care if it’s Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. They want “discovery”.

That’s what the internet is. It’s always been about that, and at a fundamental level, it will always be about that.

People of all ages can learn on the internet. This is the discovery of knowledge. People can watch movies and TV via the internet. This is the discovery of media.

The list goes on and on. Almost everything can be boiled down to the discovery of a particular thing. Discovery of what my friends are doing, what’s happening in the world, etc.

Where Is Discovery Being Done Right?

Places like Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are where real discovery is happening.

Why are people spending time in these places? It’s because they can actually discover a lot of cool things every time they visit.

Facebook is no longer this place. This is why it’s losing its “coolness” and why kids aren’t as interested. They don’t discover anything anymore on Facebook. 

What Does This All Mean?

I’m not suggesting this is the end of Facebook. As a matter of fact, I think Facebook could learn from Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Unfortunately, their current model of simply copying other platforms’ bread and butter isn’t going to cut it. They need to integrate and evolve innovation. Understand why people invest time into these other platforms and attack the psychology of the issue.

As a techie in the industry, I love the innovation feats of News Feed, Beacon, Open Graph, EdgeRank, GraphRank, Graph Search, Poke and Messages. Unfortunately, this isn’t addressing the real issue.

A News Feed redesign isn’t going to fix this. An improved Graph Search isn’t going to fix this.

This solution demands an understanding of an ideology and requires becoming a visionary in this void.

Chad Wittman

About Chad Wittman
Chad Wittman is the founder of EdgeRank Checker. Previously a VP of Social at a local agency, he quit his job to dedicate himself to analyzing how EdgeRank impacts brands on Facebook.