Sorting into Social SilosThere is some dispute about how the concept of “social media” came about but history tips toward a site called SixDegrees which technofied the humble contact list into a personal network. Beyond dispute, though, is the fact that Web tools of this type, including Blogger, WordPress, YouTube, and Vimeo (a mashup of “video” and “me”), enabled an unprecedented degree of individual exposure and promotion.
I came to digital technology through computer animation, so it was Web video that captured my attention. I did open accounts on MySpace and LinkedIn but mostly to keep up with their evolution. When I first heard of Facebook, my mind connected the name with AboutFace which didn't seem worthy of followup. Then it came up again when a staff attorney, where I worked, began bragging about how her son at Harvard was friends with the guy who started Facebook. It was certain to be a success, she said, because so many large companies were already using it.
At the time, my Web work revolved around UX (User Experience); designing, building and testing user interfaces, the critical bridge between humans and computers. Evaluating the “look and feel” of an interface was automatic for me. And I found Facebook repellent from the first time I saw it.
The strength of this aversion, in fact, surprised me. I was a Web Evangelist, a convert to Mosaic in 1992 on the campus of Silicon Graphics, driven to explore every New New Thing on the Net and to encourage that curiosity in others. From the flashing mishmash of early eCommerce to the graphic wizardry of You Don’t Know Jack, every site had something I appreciated. With Facebook, though, I was most amazed by the fact that such an amateurish vanity project garnered so much attention. This snapshot of its early interface illustrates my point.
Zuckerberg did get the site's color right. Though, according to a September 2018 profile in the New Yorker, this was because "He is red-green color-blind, and he chose blue because he sees it most vividly".
Blue is the color of trust so all the big players capitalize on it. Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Microsoft, Walmart, American Express, IBM (Big Blue). Of course, none of these companies are necessarily trustworthy. But they illustrate the point that, if you're aiming to build a brand that engenders automatic acceptance, true-blue is the color to choose. From my UX perspective, Facebook's color clashed with its odd disregard for two dominant Web standards of the time.
In the Western world, thanks to written language conventions, our eyes are automatically drawn to the upper left corner of a screen. On an interface, this is considered the "first impression" spot for a brand. Mr. Zuckerberg chose to impress us with his personal version of the Evil Eye. The other standard it ignored has since, for various reasons, fallen out of favor but was a critical customer service consideration at the time.
Based upon the long standing convention of printed newspapers, the most valuable site content was placed on the first page and "above the fold". In addition, early eye tracking studies demonstrated that we scan a page in a Z pattern, starting at the upper left and coming to rest, with no scrolling, at the bottom middle of the page. So this became established as the "helpful information" space for phone numbers and email addresses. The previous AboutFace screenshot is a good example. Then look at the early Facebook shot.
Zuck greets his audience with a glare before they Z on down to his "Mark Zuckerberg production" credit at the end. To quote Maya Angelou, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time", advice worth noting while reading this article from the Harvard Crimson.
The creator of the short-lived but popular Harvard version of the Am I Hot or Not? website said he will not have to leave school after being called before the Administrative Board yesterday afternoon. Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 said he was accused of breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy by creating the website, www.facemash.com, about two weeks ago.
The charges were based on a complaint from the computer services department over his unauthorized use of on-line facebook photographs, he said.
...The site was created entirely by Zuckerberg over the last week in October, after a friend gave him the idea. The website used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine Houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the “hotter” person.
Students were ranked within the general Harvard community and individual Houses according to attractiveness.
Zuckerberg hacked into House websites to gather the photos, and then wrote the codes to compute rankings after every vote.
Facemash Creator Survives Ad Board
Harvard Crimson 2003