Your Focus is Under Attack by Facebook’s Latest Re-design

[This Guest post was written by Scott Scheper, an entrepreneur, writer and investor based out of Southern California. Scott writes about truths and lessons that show how to get focused in our age of distraction. Through his online book, http://howtogetfocused.com, Scott releases chapters individually and leverages the comments from his readers in order to edit and enhance his book.]

Facebook's Latest Re-design is Distraction

Ever wondered why Facebook keeps releasing redesigns? I mean, the old design was fine, right?

Facebook provides an atmosphere to keep up with your friends in a neat, simple environment. This was Facebook’s edge. It was Facebook’s value proposition. In part, this is why Facebook surpassed its over-crowded competitor, Myspace.

Yet one thing remains certain: Facebook is a business. And in order for their business to thrive, they must make money.

In this piece, we’ll explore the “why” behind Facebook’s redesign. The goal is not to call out Facebook for being a distraction. After all, it’s probably the most useful online utilities, as it centers on cultivating relationships with friends. The goal is to promote awareness. It’s to make users more aware of Facebook’s goals. It’s to outline how Facebook makes money. And through this, you’ll see how Facebook’s monetization strategy sits is in direct conflict in making you a more productive person.

Facebook’s latest re-design centers on improving two things: (i) Increasing search-based ad impressions, and (ii) increasing overall ad impressions. We’ll explore why below.

I. Why is Facebook focusing on driving up search?

Facebook is driving up its search efforts for three reasons, (i) to combat Twitter, and (ii) to gain more insight into their users in order to advertise them (they’ll log which search terms you look for), (iii) display text ads on the results page.

Think about the people behind Facebook right now. They’re young, they’re smart and they’ve got confidence. Many employees within Facebook think they’re the biggest thing since sliced bread.

Search is a massive business model within the internet. Google is down the street raking in ~$20 billion every year through search. You probably recognize the thought process of Facebook. It likens itself to a caveman’s thought process.

Facebook’s caveman discovery process:

  • Google good.
  • Facebook good.
  • Google a search company.
  • Google like information.
  • Facebook have information Google can’t have.
  • Google make lot of money through search ads.
  • Facebook try to be like Google to make big-money-pow.
  • Facebook make search more important in redesign.
  • Facebook make more money from search.
  • Facebook happier

Facebook’s shift towards search prominence doesn’t add more distraction to its environment. I actually support Facebook’s decision to make search a more prominent part of their strategy and revenue model. Yet the fact remains that Facebook’s core revenue model sits on advertising, and advertising’s goals are directly aligned with promoting distraction.

II. Facebook’s Core Business Model: Distraction

Using RescueTime, I observed my time spent on Facebook. By no means am I a Facebook addict. In fact, I rarely ever use it.

“I use Facebook for development and work purposes. I maybe use it 5-10 minutes/day.”

That’s what I told myself. But apparently, I lied. RescueTime found that I use Facebook an average of 35 minutes/day.

How much would you guess the average user spends on Facebook? I mean people are seriously addicted, right? Maybe two hours, maybe three hours?

Nope, the average user spends only 45 minutes per day surfing Facebook; however, crunched into this 45 minute window is an average of ~70 pageviews.

More pageviews equals more exposure to ads (impressions).

Think about that for a second. That’s an average of almost two clicks per minute. There’s likely a wealth of people that drastically exceed that figure. Facebook is crunching out a massive amount of ad impressions in a very short amount of time.

This may prove why Facebook is so addicting. You’re actively engaged immediately after logging in. Before you know it, you’ve just wizzed on 45 minutes, which seemed like 5 minutes. Time flies when you’re actively engaged. And Facebook has done this better than anyone out there.

Facebook’s core U.S. business model centers on advertising. Yes, they have virtual goods in place (in order to monetize the areas where there are practically zero advertisers–like Indonesia, the Philipines, Japan, etc.) Being that their business model is contingent upon advertising, their goal is to drive up impressions, which in turn will drive up clicks (money).

Facebook also has more pageviews than Yahoo’s network of sites, and they’re fast-approaching Google. This means that Facebook has the potential to show more ads than Yahoo’s content network. Yet, Facebook’s ads, unlike Yahoo’s, are significantly more relevant (and also more pricey).

Here’s an example of a Facebook ad:

New Facebook Ad Format

Yahoo ads are your typical display ads (banners with pictures–Gif or Swf file). See below:

Banner Ads

But the images above only show the look and feel of the ads. The key parts sit within the system and algorithms powering the ads. This is where Facebook shines. Facebook has the data advertisers have dreamed of since the dawn of time: knowing people’s true desires.

Facebook knows more about you than you know about yourself

Sure, Facebook knows your personal information. They know where you live. They know where your friends live. They know where your family lives. They know your interests, your goals, your passions, your role-models. However, the true gems sit in the data. It’s more than likely that Facebook logs additional data about you. Facebook knows how much time you spend on Facebook per day. They know what time of day you log in.

Facebook also knows which profiles you click on most. Through this data, they can capture your hidden desires.

Let’s take a use-case example:

Ashley is an average looking 16 year-old high school girl. She hangs out with the nerdy crowd. Her interests include reading. Her favorite music is the Jonas Brothers. She’s having trouble getting over that nerd hump–and the fact that she still likes the Jonas Brothers.

Ashley has 246 friends. Not much for a teen her age. Her average time spent on Facebook outweighs others’ at 2 hours/day.

Ashley clicks on Stacy’s profile an average of ten times a day. Ashley knows Stacy through friends.

Stacy is a popular girl and hangs with the popular crowd. Stacy has 1,200 friends and her wall is always flooded with funny recollections of the previous day and photos–photo’s in which Ashley constantly browses. In Stacy’s profile, it shows that Stacy loves the band Greenday, and Stacy likes “rocking out.”

Guess what types of ads Ashley (the geeky girl that loves Jonas Brothers) will see?

Greenday ads (the band that Stacy, the popular girl, absolutely loves)

Facebook has the potential to carry this out. This is the truest form of relevant advertising. Facebook essentially knows what Ashley wants to be through the data Ashley logs in clicking and browsing Stacy’s photos.

Thus, the more you do on Facebook, and the more distracted you are, gives Facebook more data on what type of person you are; thus, allowing them to deliver more relevant ads.

So the question social networks, like Facebook, ask themselves everyday is, “How can we get, (i) more people using Facebook, (ii) more often, and (iii) get them to see our ads more frequently?”

There are hundreds of ways they attempt to do this (adding features like video, games, fan pages, etc.). However, the main way is through four core distractions:

The Four Innate Distractions From Facebook:

Facebook Red Notifcation Button

People know me. I'm a pretty big deal.

  1. Notifications: Those little red bubbles that display a certain number of messages drive clicks. People love clicking those little red notification icons. This is, in part, driven by the fact that your Facebook inbox displays the same style. And people love feeling important. “Ohhh ahh, someone took time out of their day to message me directly through Facebook? I must be important.” Getting a direct message is more intimate than a wall post. There’s a reason why the Facebook Inbox notification has the same look and feel as other notifications. Facebook wants you to click on anything with a red notification box. And looking at the new Facebook design, you’ll see much more of this.
  2. Email alerts: This is Facebook’s way of saying, “Get the hell back over here.”
  3. Chat: This is Facebook’s way of saying, “You’re not leaving.” When a friend ping’s you, “Hey! How’s it going? Been a long time. How’s the family?” You can’t just ditch them and leave Facebook. At this point, Facebook’s got you by the balls.
  4. Pictures: This may possibly be the biggest source of distraction for Facebook users. As soon as pictures pop-up in the Facebook news feed, say goodbye to 10 minutes of your life. People love pictures. It’s easy, pictures speak a thousand words, and conveniently for Facebook, there’s ads snugged next to pictures.

In order to negate these distractions in the face of Facebook’s re-design, I recommend the following steps:

  1. Use RescueTime to set up alerts. These alerts will help you identify and keep track of the time spent of Facebook.
  2. Get used to the red notification buttons, and feel comfortable in keeping them unread.
  3. Before you login to Facebook I highly recommend writing down your objective in logging in; if you try making a mental note of your objective when logging in, you’ll forget when you’re hit with thousands of social stimuli (friend requests, pokes, wall posts, etc.) For example, write down on a sticky note, “Logging in to wish my cousin a happy birthday.”
  4. Turn off all email alerts–anything “Facebook” should not appear in your email inbox
  5. Go into invisible mode on Facebook Chat
  6. Categorize your news feeds into groups–those that are your close friends, work friends, family, and “rando’s” (by Rando’s, I mean random people that you felt awkward in declining their friend request). This will help you not get distracted with photos posted by randos, as they won’t appear in your family group.
  7. Last, LifeHacker put together a great resource of Facebook Apps that help you get more productive
  8. Also, don’t forget about Facebook lite: http://lite.facebook.com

In the end, Facebook’s latest re-design centers on increasing notifications and boosting their search usage. Facebook is definitely moving in the right direction in terms of captivating users; however, it’s critical to understand how and why time flies when surfing Facebook. Hopefully the overview and tips above help you focus and become more productive online. Until, the next re-design, good luck.

Copyright 2010 creative commons How to Get Focused


2 Comments on “Your Focus is Under Attack by Facebook’s Latest Re-design”

  1. Paulo Barrera says:

    Wao, I’m very impressed on what I just have read, I never thougth on the time I spend on FB, but now I have realized. By other side, the growing of FB is amazing and I wish to know how this will keep going on the next months.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I’m very impressed about how facebook use the marketing it’s amazing, now I understand the goal this social network =) By the way thanks for the tips ;)