Whether or not Facebook Home is a “success” the reviews are in, and they aren’t good.
But even as we’re being treated to yet another round of Zuckerberg sad faces—left over from falling stock stories, I’m sure—it’s hard for me to see the down side to all this for the interactive-media giant. After all, Facebook has never cared much about the individual user experience. That’s a means to an end.
Facebook’s actions only make sense when you think about them in terms of gaining and maintaining as large a footprint as possible on the internet. And while the rest of us are trying to find our tribe, Facebook still believes in cultivating a the mass market.
When you ask people why they use a particular piece of software, or go to a particular website, they often explain how it aligns with their desires and goals. They’re interactive experiences are about doing something for them, whether it’s making a reservation or cleaning out their inbox. But interactive entertainment is a fuzzier proposition, and in several important aspects Facebook has always been far more like a game than a tool.
Not only does FB simplify and simulate a real-world interaction (human conversation), it does so in a highly constrained (and inter-mediated) way through defining its users as a set of attributes such as how many followers they have, the things they liked, and many more (mostly hidden). Limits can simplify and facilitate the user’s experience, but they can just as easily cause frustration if and when we reach the limits of the utility of that experience. Touching the edge of the pool is no fun if someone is forcing your to keep your eyes closed…
It’s doubly frustrating when when we realize that most of those constraints have been placed there in order to diminish the quality of the user experience for the benefit of their customers.
And utility is overrated. After all, long as people are using it, it doesn’t matter if we’re using it properly, productively, or effectively because the sheer fact that people are there and interacting is a win.
In the case of Facebook the goal is that people are “wasting” as much of their time in front of their screens as possible, because that’s more chances for them to see more ads along with everything else.
That works great in a browser, but on mobile Facebook’s desire to intermediate our experiences has been thwarted by the fact that we interact with our smartphones mostly by using bite-sized pieces of interactive design called apps.
Facebook (or even Apple,) can’t slip messages cleanly into (or between) our mobile experiences because when it’s called into action an app is allowed to take (almost) complete control of the device.
Unlike your browser, mobile doesn’t have room to spare, and without a big canvas to lay out out their sub-optimal experiences on, Facebook (rightly, from their point of view) had decided that what’s needed to establish a beachhead is full-frontal assault.
Wars are costly, and messy, and civilians often get hurt, but even if most Facebook Home users hate the experience, the metrics from thousands upon thousands of users will tell FB a lot about how and why they decided not to use the software.
If this was an app developer with just enough cash for a single attempt it would be a failure, but in the era of big data making a bold foray into hostile territory means that no matter how much money you lose, you’ve also captured a valuable model of how and why users both do and don’t respond to the software they’re using, and that means you’ll do better next time.
To put it another way, when it comes to intelligence making a big explosion means you can discover almost as much about your enemy from the shape of the hole is often as you can from the composition of the dirt.