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Why is everybody using Facebook? Is it good marketing or good usability? If it's usability, what specifically do they offer that is different from others? I was happily doing social networking on Orkut; so were my friends a year before. Then suddenly a wave of movement started. Everybody was leaving Orkut and started moving to Facebook. What happened is still an unanswered puzzle to me. Was it good usability and if yes what?

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Everyone is using Facebook because everyone is using Facebook. –  thedaian Jun 3 '11 at 13:10
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It's definitely NOT usability, I can tell you that –  Travis Christian Jun 3 '11 at 13:55
    
Travis, you gotta give it to them, they are a powerful UI educating tool, they have 700 million users. Think of inline editing, your users know that from facebook. Ok, not the prettiest flower in the vase, but still better than a lot of websites out there –  Adrian Jun 3 '11 at 15:00
    
No my friends are moving to Google+ –  Jitendra Vyas Aug 19 '11 at 12:27
    
The main pull of facebook over alternatives like myspace or webpages originally was that it added organisation and consistency between one profile and the next. A point which G+ misses to a large extent. –  JamesRyan Dec 2 '13 at 10:33
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9 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The reasons for the popularity of a "thing" is hard to determine and I believe the boffins that are into this sort of thing are still teasing out the details. I think it has less to do with good marketing or usability and more to do with human behaviour; particularly human "herd" behaviour. Some products or services are marketed with energy and money behind them and go no where and some have real average usability and are still successful. Facebook itself has, over the years, copped a lot of critism for it's lack of usability (epsecially in privacy settings) and yet it is still immensely popular.

It has more to do with User Experience (as opposed to Usability). Facebook, irrespective of usability issues it might have, is popular because people enjoy using it. A Lot. It taps into some part of us that define what being human is, which is being a member of the most social animal on the planet.

It's true that other social networking platforms offer the same thing and are no where near as popular and, in fact, some of these other platforms have lost their members to Facebook, as you indicated with Orkut. I'm not sure that the reasons for that are entirely understood, which is why this question was asked. It's quite likely that there are tipping points involved where one choice gradually eats away at the market until it opens a flood of popularity. It's when this happens that we look at it and say "how did that happen?". I think in the case of Facebook it probably started with it's popularity at Universities (if the Facebook story is to be believed). Somewhere in the gradually increasing network of social hungry teens the magic tipping point was reached and it went exponential from there.

I guess, in summary, I am saying that it's not marketing or usability, necessarily, that leads to success, it's the User Experience. Some reasons for a good experience can be a bit harder to pin down and could include qualitative aspects that are difficult to measure.

One of the funny things I have observed about Facebook which occurs whenever they introduce some new interface changes is the amount of discussion that occurs, mostly complaining about the changes. Where does this discussion occur? On Facebook!

I find the reasons behind the latest craze of Planking a little harder to understand, but I suspect many of the reasons for the popularity are the same for Planking as they are for Facebook.

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Planking? You mean en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planking_(fad) ? –  Rahul Jun 3 '11 at 8:27
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I'll second 'human "herd" behaviour'. –  PhillipW Jun 3 '11 at 12:00
    
@phinetune is there some study where "Human Factors" are well studied before working on a project. And isnt considering usability of site is same as considering Human Factors. You seem to be differentiating between the two. –  sushil bharwani Jun 3 '11 at 12:21
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Planking looks awesome haha. –  Matt Rockwell Jun 3 '11 at 12:40
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"lack of usability (epsecially in privacy settings)" may add to the success. The more tricky the privacy settings => the more private content gets spread => the more interest it gains. –  JOG Jun 17 '13 at 20:59
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A lot of interesting and good answers. My short answer: Facebook is successful because of the power of social validity. Throw some narcissism in there for good measure and you'll have yourself a good channel to talk about yourself hoping for people to acknowledge you. That urge to post about a stranger who've upsetted you is little bit of your mid brain(pleasure, desire) and a lot of your back brain(think lizard, flight, fear) telling you that you must share so that other's may empathize or simply gives you a heads up.

According to Business insider, Millennials aren't using facebook as much as the older generations. They think it has become uncool.

Facebook is and will be an iterative site - meaning they'll keep adding new features. Personally i think this is a usability nightmare. I haven't even scratched the surface on facebook's current and new features. I'm paralyzed with decision(another topic)

user experience wise? Well, because of it's ubiquity, I don't think a bad experience will deter others to post whatever they're trying to post. As long as someone is listening to them.

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The name itself might have a signifficance here. "Facebook" has a catchy name, and at the same time tells you a lot of what it actually contains. "Orkut" might have a catchy feel to it, but it tells you absolutely nothing about what it is.

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From a business perspective, Facebook is like McDonalds. It's not great. It's not necessarily good. But it's ubiquitous and consistent.

From a UX perspective, it's what has momentum. A social network's assets are people and it managed to attract the right people initially.

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if some one is surfing internet just for fun and want to keep it touch with friends and customer, then facebook is there. Researchers and other enthusiast always keep away from social networking websites. personally i am using facebook although its great social networking tool, but its just for 10 min not for whole day. Most of the student now a days using Facebook and they are online whole day. which is not good sign.

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People use products because they are perceived to have a positive cost-benefit tradeoff in the user experience. Usability –making a product easy to use –lowers the cost but is not itself a UX benefit. User will put up with low usability and other costs like loss of privacy and annoying advertisements if they think the benefits are worth it. Marketing (by which I think you mean promoting a product) is not itself a cost or benefit for the user, but are attempts by the product-maker to influence the perceived costs and benefits. That’s important to do, but not the only thing.

Desirability

Facebook is one of those products that succeeds because of its own success. Desirabilty –the degree the product reflects well on the user, is a significant benefit. This is one way that success can breed success: if everyone is doing it, then it must be the cool thing to do, so you need to do it too. This may explain some of the success of Facebook (on the other hand, sometimes such success can kill a product –making the user appear mundane rather than elite, but by definition, such products are niche products, and can never becoming widely used for long).

Usefulness and Site Gravity

Perhaps the most important benefit is a product’s ability to functionally fulfill a need or want –to be useful, in other words. Facebook, like many sites based on user-provided content, is a site with gravity, where the sheer user mass increases its functional usefulness, pulling more users in, which increases gravity pulling still more users in. This is another way success makes its own success

Other examples of sites with gravity include eBay, Craig’s List, eHarmony, and Wikipedia. If a user wants to buy or sell something they go to the places where there are the most other users to serve as potential customers or vendors. If I want a date, I go where there’s the largest pool of eligible daters. If I want information, I go to where there are the most users contributing, verifying, and editing the information. In doing so, I contribute to the user mass, making the site more useful for later users. For such sites, the most important thing isn’t necessarily the best usability or most creative promotion, it’s simply being first so that the user mass is ahead of any competition.

“Friend” sites also have gravity. High user mass makes them more useful –your friends are more likely to be there so they’ll be able to see your page. Old acquaintances you want to contact are more likely there too. I don’t know anything about Orkut (which is probably its problem), but maybe while all your friends were on Orkut, some of their friends were on Facebook. So they defected. And, of course once some defect, you reduce your local gravity field, so more defect until Orkut is sublimated into Facebook.

So Facebook succeeded simply by being the biggest “friend” site, thanks to it being first. Except it wasn’t first. Before Facebook there was MySpace. Before MySpace was Friendster. Before Friendster was 6 Degrees. Each of these also acquired large users masses through their sheer gravitational pull before collapsing into black holes, at least here in the US. How did Facebook avoid the same fate, and indeed expanded to user masses well beyond that ever achieved by its predecessors?

Cutting Costs, Adding Benefits

One of the potential costs of a friend site is that users end up with a lot of friends who aren’t really friends. Users felt pressure to Friend people they really didn’t really want to hang out with: their boss, the creepy guy who’s one step away from a stalker, the creepy guy’s mom. So eventually users abandoned the site. That is one reason Facebook predecessors collapsed. Facebook’s continued success is largely due to it happening to arrive at a time when our culture figured out a socially-acceptable way to handle unwanted friend requests –just ignore them. The lesson is that some cost-benefits depend on the external society and are not entirely in the product-makers control. Luck helps.

Then there’re higher benefits from Facebook than its predecessors. On the older friend sites users largely created static profile pages and that was it. But what’s useful about that? What do users do next? Eventually Friendster and MySpace became boring. Facebook in contrast provided the Wall which became a means of ongoing interpersonal communication among friends. Now that’s useful. Of course people want to be learn about and respond to the day-to-day experiences of their friends and family That never gets boring, unless your friends and family get boring.

The other long-term benefit that Facebook provided was games. That also keeps users there.

Cost/Benefit

So it comes down to cost and benefit. Facebook is not simply an inexplicable fad. Really, people are being far more rational about Facebook than they have any right to be.

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+1 for site gravity, also called: Network Effect. –  James Crook Jun 3 '11 at 22:32
    
+1 excellent points @michael –  torr Jun 15 '11 at 17:16
    
Great well thought post! –  Anna Rouben Jun 17 '13 at 17:26
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslows_hierarchy_of_needs

I think it fills some of the needs Maslow was talking about.

Edit:

Facebook fulfills human basic needs on two levels:

Love and belonging

  • sense of belonging
  • sense of being loved

Esteem

  • sense of self esteem
  • self confidence
  • achievement
  • respect by others (a little pride)

PS: and fails miserably at a more basic level, Safety :))

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You could improve your answer by explaining how, and which aspects of the hierarchy, apply. –  Rahul Jun 3 '11 at 14:23
    
+1 for the PS ;) –  Travis Christian Jun 3 '11 at 18:18
    
watch facebook the movie, I know its a film but it covers many of the social acceptance points covered by Maslow –  Adam Fellowes Jun 7 '11 at 11:40
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The reason people use Facebook is that the initial movement succeeded in creating a critical mass of identities which maintained credibility.

Consider it this way. Before facebook, myspace was essentially the equivalent. The problem with myspace however, was that there was no way of ensuring somebody was who they said they were. Joe Somebody could create a profile and call himself Tiger Woods if he wanted to. This restricted credibility. Then comes along Facebook, and they REQUIRE a university email domain for you to register. All of a sudden, EVERYBODY who is on facebook has a real profile, and they are part of the same social communities already. This helps facebook to grow, while at the same time, maintaining the integrity of the network. Once it reaches a certain critical mass, where they feel the integrity is self sustaining, they can remove restrictions on email address domains and open it up to the general public.

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I agree 100% -- but I wouldn't imply this was planned by Zuck. I think it just happened that way. I think we should not try to find an explanation for their strategy "after-the-fact". –  torr Jun 15 '11 at 17:12
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"Is it good marketing or good usability?"

This is way too narrow a reading of the situation. As phinetune implies, popularity of sites like Facebook are driven by a complex range of factors - work on the two factors you cite would come late in the overall cycle of bootstrapping a service or company (I'm thinking more generally here, eHarmony and other sites included). By the time they start work on the delivery of the service (in this instance, the site), the project is already likely to be setup for success or failure.

Sites like Facebook and eHarmony work because they know what they are doing - they identify a specific need, they identify a specific response to that need, they know how to market their response, and they know how to build a site that services the response. No single factor works in isolation here.

And just to note one other issue - there's no magic here. Social Scientists will tell you the success of these sites is founded in good, old fashioned, well understood, human psychology.

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