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Facebook Acting Buggy? You Could Be a Test Subject

Have you ever been using Facebook and randomly found that you were suddenly unable to do some very basic thing, like update your status? Or comment on and “like” your friends’ statuses? Maybe the design suddenly changed slightly and you were the only one seeing it?

Don’t worry, Facebook is a website and websites aren’t haunted, so there’s nothing supernatural at play. Rather, it could be that someone at Facebook is intentionally messing with you to see how you react…but in the end, it’s all for a better user experience.

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Facebook product designer Adam Mosseri spoke earlier this week at a Design Drink Up at Yelp headquarters about how “design is ‘informed’ by data, and not the sole driver.” During his talk, Mosseri discussed a number of different ways that the world’s largest social network slightly tweaks certain settings for a small percentage of its users. The funny thing about having more than 600 million users, of course, is that even just 1% means 6 million people.

According to Mosseri, 2010 was a year of design focused on increasing user engagement. They knew that the number of friends a user had was related to their engagement with the site, but what other factors were driving this engagement?

To find out, Facebook’s design team began running different studies. One, informally dubbed the “Yo Momma” study, consisted of interviewing new mothers about their experience on Facebook. Just your garden variety user study, right? Another study, however, turned off the ability to like or comment on friends’ status updates for a “small percent of users.” That small percent accounted for “several million” users, said Mosseri.

Facebook ran the study for two weeks, before finally ending it early because users were getting so annoyed at their situation. The company found that the “bug” caused a 7% drop in sessions and a 10% drop in time on the site for affected users. These users did, however, find a way of expressing their grievances.

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So, the next time something goes completely awry with Facebook and everyone looks at you like you’re crazy, worry not – it might not be you, your computer or the wires in-between. It might just be the friendly folks over at Facebook seeing how you react so they can try to make things better.

Some other fun facts:

  • Out of 100 people that try to upload a photo to Facebook:

    89% reach the starting point – the photo uploader.

    58% select the photos they want to upload.

    57% actually press the upload button.

    54% succeed in uploading photos in one shot.

    70% of people eventually succeed by the end of the day.
  • The last time Mosseri gave the talk, only 48% of people succeeded in uploading photos in one shot.
  • There is incredible anxiety for users in updating their status:

    Out of users that enter three or more characters into the status update box, 17% don’t post anything at all.
  • “That’s one in six people who attempt to post something but don’t,” said Mosseri. “That’s pretty crazy.”
  • There are “way more people using Facebook on feature phones than smartphones,” but those using smartphones are “way more engaged.”

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