‘Celebrating’ birthdays & unintended consequences

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 13.43.55Facebook is very good at encouraging you to interact with your friends. Every action on the site has some kind of sharing consequence, not just explicitly sharing things, but liking them, commenting on them and even clicking the links has an implication as to what you or other see on the site. All of this is meant to encourage us to share more, but sometimes these efforts have unintended consequences.

I came across an interesting example of this the other day involving the section of the site that notifies you when it is someone’s birthday. There are several places this pops up, all encouraging you to create a post or a comment on your friend’s profile, and consequently share the birthday wishes even further across the site. For people with a large number of friends this can be a useful reminder, however, for those who have indiscriminately added anyone they have ever met it has a different consequence.

For those people this draws to their attention those who they are ‘friends’ with who they actually have no interest in, or don’t even remember adding. Sharing such a personal detail as a birthday for someone you don’t have that level of connection with causes you to question the necessity of the connection at all. Cue an action: removing them as a friend. On their birthday.

I’ve spoken to a few people for whom this is a deliberate strategy. Whose birthday is it today? Do I know them? No- then let’s remove them… I’d be willing to bet a lot more people do this without thinking much about it. In this case encouraging sharing actually encourages a rather less friendly action, an action that decreases connections and sharing opportunities.

This has made me think about how we set up situations for people to engage with us, whether online or off. Facebook has assumed people only connect with others whose birthdays they would care about. By nagging them about this personal event, some users are encouraged to work against Facebook’s mantra to share more. What assumptions do you make about the people who engage with you? Are there any ways in which you could be encouraging them to do the exact opposite of what you intend..?






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