Is Facebook All Wrong About Our Sharing Psychology

October 23rd, 2013

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In this edition of The Baer Facts, I am indeed wearing an Evel Knieval robe, and I talk with Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget about SnapChat stories, the new wrinkle from SnapChat that enables users to compile a daily stack of short clips. This is an important and bold move (the technology not the robe), because as you are probably aware, SnapChat formerly was set up so that all content shared on the social network expired – forever – 10 seconds after it was initially retrieved.

Youth love SnapChat because of the temporal and ephemeral nature of the service, whereas many adults I speak with about SnapChat (which is mobile-only) have the same reaction: “Wait. It’s like GONE gone? In 10 seconds?” Indeed, it’s a very different way to create and share snippets of your life. (Note: Here at Convince & Convert, we published a very interesting case study of a cosmetics company release their new collection in tiny burst via SnapChat. Fascinating approach.)

With Stories, SnapChat users will now be able to pile up a few clips from throughout the day, and those clips will be viewable by anyone to which that user is connected, and potentially the public, based on user settings. But, in keeping with their strategy of making content disappear, Stories expire every 24 hours. It’s as if you created a daily diary of photos and videos, shared that diary with your friends every night, and then burned it.

This concept is fundamentally at odds with Facebook, which audaciously and vociferously encourages all members to populate their Timelines not only by documenting present scenarios, but by adding milestones from days gone by, dating all the way back to birth, in many cases. Facebook believes – and is very much on-record as stating – that we WANT to share all of this information. But do we, and what version of ourselves are we choosing to share?

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth?

According to Facebook, we desire to assemble a rich tapestry of our entire lives, and share it with the public (or at least with “friends”). About this entire construct SnapChat says “balderdash.”

In a fascinating blog post titled “The Liquid Self” from SnapChat’s in-house sociology researcher Nathan Jurgenson, the case is made that our current notions about social media and identity are restrictive and largely, fraudulent. Only by establishing a structure whereby content has an expiration date – and thus cannot be used to pigeonhole us or cost us a job – can we by truly free online.

Whether you fully accept the premise or not, there is no doubt more than a kernel of truth to the concept that what we choose to share in today’s dominant social networks that are rooted in permanence is a highly bastardized version of our own truth. Anecdotally, my teenage children never use Facebook now, and are far goofier and more playful with their SnapChat communication (to me, and to their friends), then they were when using Facebook. Here’s what Jurgenson writes, comparing Facebook (and other social media) to a shopping mall, and SnapChat to a public park:

The default of requiring social media users to permanently record and display themselves damages the invaluable importance of identity play. Put differently: many of us desire social media that is less like the mall and more like a park. Being far less standardized, constrained, and policed, yes, the park is somewhere you might do something a little dumb. Knees get scraped. But mistakes shouldn’t be fully avoided, which is what dominate, permanent social media demand, resulting in constant over-anxiety about what’s being posted. A healthy corrective to existing social media would be to create platforms that provide more room to behave without that behavior always defining who one is and what one can do. The idea of non-patrolled spaces for expression can be frightening, but a lack of such spaces is far more worrisome.

Do We Crave The Circle of Trust?

In a way, SnapChat brings us full circle back to the MySpace days, where lack of identity norms created a maelstrom of often nonsensical (yet perhaps far more visceral and honest) social media and online connectivity. And SnapChat isn’t alone in their search for greater truth in our social communication. Path attempts to up the truthiness quotient by restricting your social graph solely to 150 of your closest friends, although many users have fewer connections. The idea is that you can be “real” on Path, because you are sharing only with your inner circle.

So maybe Facebook has it all wrong? Maybe what we really want is the opportunity to show our friends not the version of our selves we think they want to see, but our lives in full bloom including all the stupid, sad, inane, crazy and dubious parts – provided the slate gets wiped clean at midnight.

 

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