By Austin Carr, May 5, 2010
Facebook users are still very skeptical about socializing online. And they're slightly confused about what exactly Facebook should be used for, according to a study of user behavior by Denmark-based Red Associates. They surveyed close to 500 members of the Facebook community — hand-picked from fans ofFast Company — to learn more about how users interact online.
When did you first register for Facebook? Has it been that long? Can you even remember why you registered (Besides: All my friends are doing it!)? What did you expect the social network to deliver?
Facebook's homepage promises to help "you connect and share with the people in your life." Red Associates's study, though, suggests that users want far more, with 90% of respondents expecting that the social network will "deepen or strengthen their friendships." Very few actually believe Facebook delivers on this expectation, with more than half of respondents viewing Facebook instead as a relationship-management tool, not a useful way to deepen relationships. Just 0.7% see Facebook as only good for strengthening friendships.
Should Facebook still be considered a "social" networking site?
The study points out that even your "friends" online are not actually your friends, finding that close to 40% of respondents say they added "friends" to their Facebook network simply because it was easy. "Facebook has no intelligent mechanism for figuring out who your close friends are or who you would like them to be," the study reminds us. "Online social networks make it easy for people to accumulate friends rapidly and to make commitments easily," and in fact, "What define social networks most [is] a lack of depth in relationships."
Many users appear disappointed by this lack of intimacy, according to the survey; moreover, they are even unsure how intimate they can act on Facebook. For example, the survey asked users about their level of comfort in sharing information online. They asked respondents to rate whether the following messages were appropriate to post on Facebook:
- My son graduated from college (92.8% feel this is appropriate)
- My wonderful father died last night (57.2%)
- My wife left me (10%)
Certainly, these are extreme posts, but what's interesting here is that there is roughly an even split between the number of respondents who feel sharing information about a father's death is appropriate and those who do not, suggesting, according to the study, that "people are uncertain about what's okay to express emotionally without being a turn-off."
For nearly half of all respondents, Facebook isn't considered a social network but more a public phone book or search engine. Contact is minimal and impersonal, and close to a fourth of all respondents said that Facebook has not led to a better social life.
So just how social is Facebook? Is it just good for birthday-reminders and the occasional wall post? Do you agree with the study's findings? Share below.
This article originally appeared in Fast Company.