Posted by: mikebodinesayshello | October 10, 2011

Designing our Online World

Having read about the delicate relationship between the designers of online worlds and the fans that exist in those worlds, I couldn’t help but think of the relationship between the makers of Facebook and the 800 million people that are members of the social networking site.

Much like choosing the look and style of an avatar in worlds like Second Life or World of Warcraft, a Facebook user can be the ‘designer’ of their online existence. Personal Facebook users can choose which pictures to include in their profile, what personal information to share, and who to include in their online world. Businesses can create custom welcome pages, and everyone is able to create and use applications.  However, larger changes to the Facebook world (i.e. layout and privacy settings) are made by the site’s designers.

In Convergence Culture, Jenkins described how wholesale changes to the world of Star Wars Galaxies led to an exodus among loyal fans. Earlier this year, the developers of Star Wars Galaxies announced that it will be closing for good on December 15, 2011. Without knowing whether the closing of Star Wars Galaxies was a result of a decline in cultural relevance or a declining population as a result of customer dissatisfaction, it is worth questioning whether Facebook’s disregard for customer input will have a chilling effect among its users.

For example, changes on Facebook are often unannounced and can be significant. Recently, Facebook made a number of changes to its look and feel, and changed the way content is kept private.  After every round of changes, users seem to react angrily and threaten to leave the site. Out of all the people that threatened to leave the site in my friend circle, only one has followed through.

Are people so dependent (in the uses and gratifications sense) on Facebook that they will ride out changes that impact their experience?

In what ways are social networks and online gaming worlds similar?

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