No reciepe for success

Facebook Network selection requirement

This week’s reading was Clay Shirky’s last chapter in Here Comes Everybody, chapter 11: Promise, Tool, Bargain. Shirky explains that en though “there is no recipe for the successful use of social tools…every working system is a mix of social and technological factors.” (260) Despite the inability to find an exact formula for success he claims that every successful example in his book has used the following three elements:

1.) Promise – This is the “why” someone should join or contribute to a specific group. It is vitally important because it is the the promise that converts the potential user into an actual user. Shirky explains that the key to a good promise is balancing between being too broad or too extreme. The key is that “the implicit promise of any given group matters more than any explicit one” (262). This idea of creating meaning and convincing  the potential user is unique because it is not simple “selling” the idea of social media, but convincing users to actually participate and take action.

Creating the promise is complicated by many factors, including the paradox of group or basically that a group can not exist without members, but no one is not a member until they are part of a group. “With social tools, the group is the user, so you need to convince individuals not just that they will find the group satisfying and effective but that others will find it so as well; no matter how appealing the promise, there’s no point in being the only user of a social tool.” This problem is complicated by factors such as group size and commitment level. Shirky uses the example of Flickr and Live Journal as ways to subdivide the community to more manageable and creating value to user input in order to attract and retain users.

2.) Tools – This is the “how” problems and coordination will be addressed on every level. Tools are complicated because there is not a panacea type tool that can be used, but rather they must be specific and tailored for particular jobs. Shirky explains that “when you improve the availability of tools, you expand the number of plausible promises in the world.” (266). Shirky uses the comparison of tools to trellises for vines, “they didn’t make the growth possible, but they supported and extended that growth” (266). Group action and selection are also determined by group size and duration of interaction.

3.) Bargain –  This is the rule set, the if you want to use the social tools what you can expect and what is expected of you portion. Bargains come third in the list because they can only come about after the creation of a promise and a working set of tools are in place, but it is the most important. Shirky explains this importance because “it is the least explicit aspect and in part because it is the one the users have the biggest hand in creating, which means it can’t be completely determined in advance.” (270). The bargain is what helps the user determine transaction costs, and will they be balanced or more one sided. But no matter what the bargain is, the end point is that users must agree to it, not only in a contractual manner, but in the user interaction experience. Shirky uses the example of Wikipedia switching from to to continue the promise of using GFDL to assure users that all content that contribute is free and available to all users and not for profit.
These three things seem easy enough to track, so why can’t there be a secret formula for success? Well, Shirky says that complex interactions social dilemmas complicate this process creating unique social tools thus erasing the idea of a universal formula. Interactions between users complicate all three of these aspects. This can be seen in how users interpret the implicit meaning of the promise, the spectrum of tools use, and accepting and rejection of the evolving bargain. An example of these complex interactions would be as we discussed in the Failure is Free post where we talked about the meet up group Stay at Home Moms. Ultimately, it was user interaction with the promise of meet up (be connected to people with similar interests, defined as stay at home moms), tools (the platform of meet up to exchange advice and ideas), and the bargain (defining user status ranging from posting and sharing ideas, to just visiting the site and reading to find out information) that led to it’s success not anything inherent in the meet up design.
It is this heavy reliance on the user that results in the social dilemmas that arise in all groups. Shirky gives many examples ranging from botched eBay transactions to branching off of the original group topic. This introduces the dilemma of satisfaction vs. effectiveness in groups. Groups must be able to evolve by altering their promise, the tools they use, and revising the bargains in order to maintain user satisfaction and effectiveness. Lastly, I would pose a question to the class. Recently Facebook just reached 350 million users. Founder Mark Zuckerberg recently explained how when Facebook first formed and evolved that it made sense to divide communities by school networks, then regions, and companies. However, Facebook is considering reevaluating these divisions. How do you think this will alter the social network and how will users respond?

10 responses to “No reciepe for success

  1. Lauren Ingerman

    With regard to Facebook’s getting rid of networks, I think that these three “rules for success” could potentially be altered. I am specifically concerned with “promise.”

    Granted, Facebook has become such a necessity in our lives that we won’t stop being active users due to this change, but I do think that the promise of the social networking site does change significantly. We changed from potential users to active users because of what the site offered us, and a large part of that appeal was networks. Sure, Facebook has expanded on its promise several times by adding new applications and capabilities, even changing formats. However, in this case it seems like Zuckerburg is going back on an important promise, not expanding on it. I think that this could pose some new questions about what exactly the social uses of the site will and should become.

  2. I to agree that if Facebook were to break down these categories of separating by schools, regions and companies, there is a definite shift in “promise.”

    To some extent, I have always regarded Facebook as a more sophisticated version of Myspace. A safer version as well because you know that it is more difficult to create a false account and that the people you are friending are from your school or company. Since Facebook is getting larger, I think there should even be more categorizing involved.

    Further, I believe that most current Facebook users are content, if not happy, with the functions of Facebook. A while back, when Facebook changed its design layout, tons of users created groups to hopefully convince Facebook makers to change it to the old layout. Since the categories of Facebook is considered as part of the “promise” of creating a social network with people you know, I think that users may “gain enough power and support to be able to demand that they be deferred to,” as with the Digg example given in the book (Shirky 292).

  3. I also agree that Zuckerberg’s intentions to reevaluate the current divisions of Facebook will impact the “promise”. Like Kim said above, when Facebook’s layout was first changed there was a lot of debate whether people liked it or not. Despite the increasing number of users, when a frequently used site changes its layout individuals become uncomfortable and intimidated. I believe that the continuous expansion of Facebook could be potentially harmful. I know of many people who have grown to dislike Facebook because the type of social-networking site it is turning into. It is no longer an area for connecting with friends, it has become a site to log on to and play games, or take “friend quizzes”. Perhaps the more Zuckerberg attempts to change it, the further away it is becoming from succeeding at its “promise”.

  4. I find it interesting there is so much philosophy behind web creation such as Facebook. It is just a social tool to help engage ourselves with our friends. This promise that we speak of is important in the sense of attracting people to Facebook. I wonder if our lives are simpler because of tool such as Facebook or more complicated.

  5. Agreeing with what is said above, losing the networks effects the promise. Part of the reason why I initially made the switch from MySpace to Facebook was its filtration capabilities and networks is a main part of that. That said, I don’t know if the change effects the promise enough so that there would be an outcry large enough to override the decision or loss in membership (in other words if any harm will come to Facebook’s success). Of course there would be a reaction for it is another reminder of how much users can’t control the site (similar to the yahoo flicker reaction). And I do question why the change though for I can’t see it helping the site (owners or users) any.
    I also wanted to mention Shirky’s point about how even if the members of a group stays the same but one of the 3 things change (or anything for that matter) that the group changes. Groups are fragile and must go through changes to remain intact, but it will be that one change that leads to its downfall or success. This is easily seen in Facebook; as it got more entertaining (with pets and Bumper Stickers and such) old users would spend more time on their own pages and visiting others—how one used Facebook (and for some the “why”) changed redefining the experience.

  6. I agree that that Facebook changing these categories does change the promise of the sight. By making it harder to navigate based on school or area Facebook becomes less of a social networking site and more of a place to talk to people that you already know. The previous post raises an interesting question: are tools like facebook making or lives simpler or more complicated? I wold argue that, despite the convenience of these tools, they make our lives more complicated by layering reality. We all have friends in reality and fiends on facebook and people sometimes confuse the two.

  7. I would like to respond to the various instances of what has been termed as ‘social dilemmas’ that have occurred within the social networking communities found online. As simple as this may sound but I feel that these ‘dilemmas’ serve as testaments to the saying “People are the wildcards”. You never know what people might do in any given situation and the same is true for social networking sites found online.
    You also stated within this post that it is the heavy reliance on the user that makes these situations arise, however I would counteract that statement by asking; And just who should these sites rely upon? Are these sites not created for the use of people online?
    If they fail then it is as you say a disconnect between user satisfaction and effectiveness. But without the user then the site would just exist as it’s own self-contained entity completely defeating the purpose. So at times this disconnect may occur and some sites may fail and/or not live up to it’s potential as seen in certain groups found on Meet but that doesn’t mean that the ‘promise’ is not still viable and/or desired.

  8. A great deal of my friends on Facebook are unknown, during High School, it was trendy in my community to have as many friends as possible and as a result, I’m often greeted on my feed by complete strangers. What I’m getting at, is I basically use Facebook with no categories, I have no way to categorize people I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s that bad. If one really knows the people they network with, whether professional, academic, or just friends, then it really shouldn’t be a problem if the person is not categorized, because we should know who are friends are.

    Though Facebook is for networking, social networking sites are a derivative of actual communication, We’re loosing out on the benefits of actual friendship and communication by letting Facebook do all the work. If the promise actually transforms someone into an actual user, a lack of categories might force one into actively remembering their friends and connecting with them more as a result, which is more so what Facebook is all about. With the categories it’s a lot easier to completely ignore an entire group of people, such as choosing to only allow your college network to appear on your feed, vs your high school network.

  9. I do agree with the other comments that the change in Facebook networks takes away the “promise” aspect of the application. But, at the same time, I feel like while it creates groups that are not in favor of the changes (as Kim said, groups were formed to undo the change in layout format), the altering of its “promise” opens up Facebook to many more people from which Facebook will find new loyal and satisfied users. Because there is no universal formula for success, not everyone will win (obviously). Even though I’m not particularly in favor of Zuckerberg changing the networks, I feel that he is simply exploring the fitness landscape. Because he’s not taking away the privacy options, I feel that he is still indirectly maintaining the promise of Facebook.

  10. I agree that Facebook making the change to the networks changes the “promise”, but I don’t think it matters unless there is a mass exodus away from Facebook which won’t happen. Since everyone will continue to use Facebook it shows that people are okay with Facebook changing the “promise”.

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