Monday, July 09, 2007

Why Facebook is sticky

SpongeBob SquarePants Martin and Tony have both posted recently about the "stickyness" of Facebook and the potential importance of this affordance in education.

Tony correctly singles out your Facebook "friends" status as an important factor, and Martin just told me more than I need to know about his feelings towards SpongeBob SquarePants (on the other hand, knowledge is power, mwahahaha).

There's no mystery as to why Facebook is "sticky". What Facebook (and Twitter) users do is called "continuous partial attention", and it's due to the psychological principle of intermittent variable reward, one of the most powerful methods of operant conditioning:

Ferster, C.B. & Skinner, B.F. 1957 Schedules of reinforcement. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Zeiler, M.D. 1968 Fixed and variable schedules of response-independent reinforcement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 11, 405–414.

In the words of B.F. Skinner Bob Geldof, It's a rat trap baby, and you've been caught.

So the question is not what or why, but how do we use this affordance of Facebook for educational good, rather than evil? And what's the opposite of mwahahaha?


  1. I hadn't of seeing others' status updates as rewards but I guess there is some sort of conditioning going on there?

    I always thought there was more to PigeonRank than Google were admitting to...

    Do you know if anyone looked at stickiness in social sites from a conditioning point of view?

    (Are we all that predictable?!)

    Having pointed it out, there are quite a few other rewards in the social s/w systems that immediately come to mind:

    a) comments (which I guess also counts as some sort of "social grooming" (like mobile phone gossip);

    b) trackbacks;

    c) inspecting your own web stats/feed subscriber stats;

    (I've often wondered about the Feedburner subscriber count badge; is it there to foster competition? as an indicator to potential subscribes as to how well regarded the blog is (certainly, I'm probably more likely to subscribe to a new blog I find if it has a high subscriber count according to feedburner, or higher relevance according to technorati).


  2. More Facebook rewards:
    1) receiving invites;
    2) having invites accepted;
    2) friend discovery via search as well as friends' networks and groups.

    Invites are interesting - there is the opportunity for blasts from the past to get in touch with you which may be a really big bonus...though though such invites may potentially be a negative reward, I guess?


  3. You've outed me as a Spongebob fan! (My status in question was 'Martin is enjoying Spongebob Squarepants more than a 40 year old should').
    Like Tony I hadn't thought of it in terms of Skinnerian conditioning. I suppose you're right, although one can always stretch Skinner a bit far.
    Following on from Tony's rewards - other things that pull me back in are seeing what widgets people have added (is this like trainspotting 2.0?) and some of the strange distributed conversations you have across people's walls. The networks don't really work for me yet, nor do the gifts, but they must for some.

  4. The gifts would be more interesting if they were earned (by the givers) for online activity rahter than simply purchased for RL cash.

  5. A dumb question from a Web 2.0 newbie but what does "stickyness" mean? I've encountered it in various places (e.g. O'Reilly) but haven't got it.

  6. "Sticky" means the frequency with which users return to the site, and possibly the lenght of time they spend on the site too.
    As educational developers, we want our content to be sticky so students consume it and engage with any technologies we use.