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How can 800 million people willingly display their whole personal lives on a wall, for the world to see? See for yourselves! You and your friends’ friends’ friends’ friends!

Credits: Vasjen-Katro/Flickr


Since Zuckerberg & Co. officially announced their intent of listing for the Stock Exchange, the hundred million dollar question has been whether Facebook is worth all this money or not. And since a question never appears alone, it carries a lot of “what ifs” in tow. What if the social network uses an inefficient advertising system? What if, once they become millionaires, key Facebook employees will leave to start up their own companies? What if the hundreds of millions of Facebook users will get bored with the site, or will leave due to an acute need for privacy?

What seems to matter right now is the psychology behind every individual user.


To be fair, Facebook is appraised based on its number of users, rather than the company’s income. What seems to matter right now is the psychology behind every individual user, or the “magic” behind Facebook. What determines nearly half of Facebook users to check their profiles before bedtime and right after waking up Facebook before bedtime and right after waking up? Is it just the fun of connecting with one’s friends and family?


We already know the physiological effects that technology in general can trigger in the human brain. Every time we get a like or a comment on a post, our brain rewards us with a shot of dopamine. Also known as “the pleasure chemical”, it is the main substance used by the brain when learning through the reward system. And we’re not talking about Facebook turning us into dopamine addicts – but with two very important additions:


  1. the so-called addiction is a term used by the media, not by scientific studies.
  2. web 2.0 addictions are not the result of just one form of social media, but of technology in general.


“We are at the dawn of a revolution in how individuals and cultures make decisions and act” – BJ Fogg


As for Facebook, the Network is more than a mere shot of dopamine – it’s what experts call the first mass interpersonal persuasion (MIP) tool. The term was coined by BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford University, who believes “this new way to change attitudes and behavior is the most significant advance in persuasion since radio was invented in the 1890s”. And it doesn’t just come from the mouth of your average professor, but from one who specializes in the study of computers as persuasion technology – also known as captology.


In short, Facebook embodies six elements – a thing unheard of until 2007, when the social network opened up app creation to anyone interested. These elements are, in a nutshell:

1. Persuasive Experience: An experience meant to change attitudes and/or behaviors

2. Automated Structure: The digital technology structuring the persuasive experience

3. Social Distribution: The persuasive experience is shared with friends

4. Rapid Cycle: The persuasive experience can be rapidly distributed from one individual to the next

5. Huge Social Graph: The persuasive experience has the potential to reach millions of socially connected people

6. Measured Impact: The effect of persuasive experience can be observed by users and creators alike.



The Map of European Facebook Connections, Paul Butler, Dec 2010

If things sound interesting in theory, they get even better in practice. In December of 2007, Fogg held a seminar on Facebook app measuring and psychology, to better explain his MIP. The seminar did not focus on programming, but on the psychology of persuasion and attention to detail – such as what each button should look like, and which text to use. In short, after 10 weeks, his students managed to convince 16 million users to install their apps, and over one million to use them daily. And all this during a time when Fogg’s students had a serious competition, in the 50 apps launched every day.


But what about the average users, who cannot write their own apps? To be fair, the options are limited, but every time users create a new group – say, a group protesting against something or someone – they are using MIP without being aware of it. In fact, every time a Facebook user tries to change others’ thoughts or reactions, and not merely amusing or informing them, MIP is involved.


Interpersonal persuasion not only offers the average person the possibility to impose their own convictions on a third party, but also gives their ideas the potential to reach other thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of disciples. This used to be a strong card played only by the media, not individuals.


“We are at the dawn of a revolution in how individuals and cultures make decisions and act”, Fogg concludes. A revolution started by Facebook, even though the American professor says MIP is not exclusive to Zuckerberg’s brainchild. However, it’s clear that, on this account, Facebook seems unbeatable. Like? Comments?



Editor’s note: a big thank you goes to Crina Căliman who managed to translate our not quite easy to translate romanian article.


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