How Facebook Structured Our Creativity

By on June 7, 2013

How Facebook Structured Our Creativity

MySpace will ultimately be written as a ‘great start’ when the history of social media is finally written. It proved that deep down all we really want is structure. In the beginning of the social media boom, the internet realized that everyone was tired of email groups and internet forums. People wanted to connect, interact, and make their mark on something without having to build an Angelfire site about Friends or joining a Blink 182.

Their answer came in the form of various prototypes, but the first successful early social media website was MySpace. The emotional core behind MySpace was freedom. Users built their pages around how they saw themselves and were free to use HTML to develop their online identity. The results of the format were occasionally great, but more often frustrating. I’m sure you remember the black background and red fonts of the early 2000s, and the custom formatting that made a profile even harder to read. Also, I’m pretty sure the only reason I know about Screamo genre is because of MySpace.

Unintended gamification also hindered MySpace. Without any way to quantify the value of a profile, users would post on MySpace’s bulletin system to ask for picture comments, friend requests, and provide updates for their social circle. The result was a hodge-podge of content with unclear goals. Users were harnessing social media to validate their internet presence rather than to share cool stuff with friends. That’s where Facebook changed the game.

We’ve all seen The Social Network, and the overarching conceit of the film is about how Mark Zuckerberg bottled the college experience. I don’t believe that’s why Facebook was successful.

I think Facebook works because it’s a creative experience that’s limited by structure. Every profile has the same general aesthetic and the memorable blue header is a constant reminder for what website you’re visiting. Updates are instant, and the little globe at the top of your screen keeps you updated on the activity of your friends, posts, and comments.

When you create your Facebook profile, you’re building an online identity within the framework of the platform. Where MySpace asked you to visually identify your personality, Facebook gives you specific spaces to express your interests. This system works on two levels:

1. It’s designed around your social circle. There’s a time and a place for building your online presence, but your personal profile is mostly intended for your friends and acquaintances.

2. Targeted marketing is made much easier through this system. When a user connects his or her page to their favorite bands, films, and books it then becomes much easier to suggest products or creative content that they might like.

I really do believe that the status is one of the most important innovations for social media. Taking a cue from MySpace’s bulletin system, the Facebook status is a way to keep you connected to your friend group. ‘What’s on your mind?’ asks the text at the apex of your FB dashboard, and millions of people tell everyone in their friends list what’s going on with them every day.

The like system, a more recent idea, is similarly genius. Instead of leaving a post in the online aether, friends of a poster can passively show approval by clicking the ‘like’ button. The poster receives a notification which acts as positive reinforcement for saying or sharing something that people thought was cool. This results in more frequent posting, higher overall quality of content, and less updates on how good the food you just ate tasted.

Facebook is, at heart, a website about the exchange of information. You’re telling Facebook your interests, what you’re up to, and where you live. In exchange, Facebook connects you to people you might have never caught up with again. MySpace’s problem was the second part of the name. Social media isn’t about a ‘space,’ it’s about a conversation.

The success of Twitter is the final nail in MySpace’s coffin. It may seem odd to limit users to 140 characters, but the results and creativity within the constraints of Twitter’s platform have been amazing. Humans are pack animals. We crave structure, and Facebook is the code of laws that brought order to MySpace’s wild west.

How does this apply to your business? Thought of any cool ways to engage your consumer’s creativity? Let us know with a comment.

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Matthew Toren

About Matthew Toren

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.