Facebook with its 900 million registered users and 600 million plus unique daily visitors is the largest social networking site today. But, how has it beat the likes of MySpace and Orkut to reach this position?
The rise of Facebook has been smeared by many allegations of cheating, code theft and unfair practises by its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Yet, all the bad publicity and even a movie has not hampered the pace of its growth.
MySpace has only around 1 million unique visitors today with a 100 million plus registered user base. That is, 1% of the original registered users for MySpace while Facebook has around 66% of its registered users visiting the site on a daily basis. This is a huge level of engagement. The number of unique visitors in Orkut has come down from 60 million unique visitors a day to around 25 million unique visitors, mostly from Brazil and India. The level of engagement in Orkut at 25% is higher than MySpace. This huge gap has more to do with the behavioral science than with the theories about site design, and spam floating about the Internet, though some of the points are valid.
The success of Facebook is due its understanding of people’s behaviour in a better manner than its competitors. MySpace or Orkut had the initial problem that you could see others posts or scrap book only if you took the effort to do it, while Facebook was a narcissist’s dream come true. Whatever you posted immediately became available to your friends and friends of friends. This meant that more people could show off themselves. The other category of people attracted to Facebook were those who like to keep an eye on what’s happening in other peoples lives. This was a marriage made in heaven. The rest of the people migrated due to the increasing number of their friends on Facebook. The controls and privacy in Facebook was added for the normal people looking out to protect their privacy’s, but these controls had to be exercised by choice and were not default to protect your privacy. While Myspace and Orkut came from the other end of the spectrum where privacy was paramount and peeping into other people’s lives was a little more difficult. The initial shift to Facebook must have come from people who saw Facebook as a great forum to showcase themselves with a little bit of me, myself and my stuff to the world out there.
The unbridled exhibitionism and people’s online behaviour in Facebook is a psychologist’s dream come true. The behaviours exhibited by people online can often be used to create a psychological profile of people and that too at scales never before imagined. You could even identify psychopathic or narcissistic profiles by studying their behaviour on Facebook. Robert Hare (the author of Without Conscience and a renowned psychologist), please note, the data for arriving at the percentage of psychopaths in human population and in individual societies and countries could soon be in hand. Notwithstanding the fact that around 88% of the world population of around 6 billion is not on Facebook, the data generated by current users could be a minefield in the hands of government intelligence agencies to study whole nation’s behaviour and could also serve as a testing field for swarm theory and group behaviour by seeding ideas into vulnerable groups, influencing election results, overthrowing governments, creating revolutions and what not.
Facebook’s resounding success is its ability to herd people, give them less choices and understand group behaviour better. People in general ultimately like to be led, though individuals may beg to differ.