Why I left Facebook

Recently I got ‘off’ facebook. The quote marks are to indicate what that actually means, which is to say I deactivated facebook. For all intensive purposes it means I’m no longer visible to any other user, I can’t be messaged or invited to anything and there is nothing there waiting for me.


But I can get back on.


Every part of the facebook experience is designed around your being on there, even the part where you leave.


The focus on engagement at facebook is second to none, and it shows. I don’t need to rattle off the statistics here (although I may later) so why is it that my 8+ years usage of facebook has resulted in my strong and now actioned desire to leave?


The typical reason people ‘leave’ a technology, is they simply stop coming back. This wasn’t the case here.

The space between


In jazz they talk about the notes you don’t play being where the magic is created,


When people ask me why I got off facebook I explain it like this.


Imagine a vase, and put a few large stones in it. These represent the major things in your life from a mental perspective. Friends & family, work or vocation, eating, relationships, sleep and exercise.


In between there is space.


While I wasn’t on facebook that much (maybe an hour or so a day on average after I removed it from my phone) it was very much water in that mental space.


With it there, there was no room for creativity.


There was no room for magic.

Data informed decision making


In a talk Adam Mosseri, now Director of Product at Facebook,  gave in late 2010 on UX ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKZiXAFeBeY ) he spoke about how facebook was driven by data informed decision making, in how they design their user experience.  How they use the masses of data they collect to drive how they continue to engineer their user experience.


He also spoke to the need to optimize for the needs of the individual with the needs of the network, and that sometimes these may not end up aligned.




In it’s early days facebook optimized for growth (# of users on the network) and engagement (how often they use the network). With a billion people now on the network and ~ 50% of them using it on a daily basis their focus has paid off.


… and while Facebook is still winning the battle for our engagement with over 700m daily active users there is clearly plenty of indicators that others, like tinder in dating or tumblr for micro-blogging, are working out that you can engineer for engagement.

Engagement squeeze


In a recent blog post I spoke about picking trends ( http://vincentturner.me/2013/09/11/picking_trends_startup_success/ ). In the last 5 years we have moved to a world where the world is literally at our fingertips. It is no longer just about working out how to engage people with your product or experience … you’re now fighting every other experience for it.


Having the highest engagement, while clearly not a bad strategy, may not be the right strategy for the product you are designing, supporting the venture you are building


Here, let me explain.

Wants & Needs

When I was pitching Planwise to investors I would continually get asked ‘how long do people spend on your app?’. A huge weight was placed on time on site as the measure of engagement, a notion I challenged with the following question


“If I took away both facebook and google (search) from you personally today, which one would you want back first?”


In almost 3 years of asking that question no one has ever answered facebook.


Although there is probably a variety of reasons I summarize it as although facebook is a great way to stay in touch, it’s convenient, it speaks to your desire for social inclusion or whatever other motivator you care to choose… when you really need to find something out in today’s connected world you need google, you really do.


Yet google.com is not engineered so you spend hours on their search or results page. In fact it’s engineered completely the opposite way. It’s designed around the very premise that you have things you’d rather be doing than searching for stuff, so let’s get you on your way as quickly and effectively as possible by having nothing by the search bar when you start, and organic results on the left hand side and clearly separated from ads they also serve.


When you start designing your product or experience you need to consider is the underlying behaviour or habit I’m looking for the user to complete something that they are predisposed to naturally or are we building to a need that is a reflection of the world we now live in.


In the same way that creating engagement and habit works by understanding the way our reptilian brains respond, we need to understand that our core traits as humans has evolved over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Our ‘need’ to survive in our current world is a relatively new phenomena.


Dave McClure famously spoke of great companies work to get you laid, paid or made, which is a nice rhyming simplification of our basic needs.


This ignores probably the most basic of human emotional states however. The need to create, invent, learn and dream, which is core to the lives we live.


Love & Lives


In whatever product you are designing right now, you need to firstly consider engagement. How often do people use my product, for how long. Without the most basic of engagement you won’t create a viable venture.


But once you have established habits in your users, you need to start optimizing for something else.


You should work how to be really important to your users, whether it’s love or need, without simply further optimizing for traditional engagement metrics.


The technology that people love and can’t live without that lets people go out and live is one that people will never want to leave.



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