Evolution of a Social Site


We came across this intriguing and detailed look at how social networking site Facebook has evolved over time. Taking a research view of Facebook from it’s birth as closed social network TheFacebook at Harvard in 2004 to the oft-criticized social network pushing for less and less personal privacy of today, this offers an interesting glance at human behaviors inside the Skinner Box of a social site.

What do we mean, comparing a social site to a Skinner Box? The premise of a Skinner Box is that behavior is modified and changed by positive or negative reinforcement doled out at irregular intervals based on a subject’s actions within the box. Facebook acts as a Skinner Box for social and purchasing behavior, and it works so well that it is starting to effect real world behavioral changes and changes in how we view long-held social norms like privacy.

By having multiple calls to action within the Facebook experience and offering a variety of rewards online and off (as well as punishments – just look at people getting phished or fired from their actions on Facebook for an example) Facebook is altering our behavior online. That includes how we interact with friends, family, news, work, shopping sites, and games (look to Angry Birds for another example of Skinner in action).

How do you feel, as a social network user, about networks like Facebook altering your behavior through repeated use? Do you see this behavior modification happening on other sites? Do you think it is harmless or harmful? Have you applied behavior modification techniques to your own business web sites?

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