The LAB: Innovating Facebook with Attribute Dependency (March 2011)

Academic Focus: The Rotman Business Design Challenge
March 21, 2011
Marketing Innovation: The Metaphor Tool
April 4, 2011

The LAB: Innovating Facebook with Attribute Dependency (March 2011)

Facebook innovated its way to become the dominate social network with 600 million users in just six years since launch. What will it do for an encore? More importantly, how will it continue to innovate? For this month's LAB, we will apply the Attribute Dependency tool to demonstrate how Facebook might continue re-inventing itself. To use Attribute Dependency, make two lists. The first is a list of internal attributes. The second is a list of external attributes - those factors that are not under your control, but that vary in the context of how the product or service is used. Then create a matrix with the internal and external attributes on one axis, and the internal attributes only on the other axis. The matrix creates combinations of internal-to-internal and internal-to-external attributes that we will use to innovate. We take these virtual combinations and envision them in two ways. If no dependency exists between the attributes, we create one. If a dependency exists, we break it. Using Function Follows Form, we envision what the benefit or potential value might be from the new (or broken) dependency between the two attributes. Here are attributes of the Facebook experience:

 Facebook innovated to become the dominate social network with 600 million users in just six years.  What will it do for an encore?  More importantly, how will it continue to innovate?  For this month’s LAB, we will apply the Attribute Dependency tool to demonstrate how Facebook might continue re-inventing itself.

To use Attribute Dependency, make two lists.  The first is a list of internal attributes.  The second is a list of external attributes – those factors that are not under your control, but that vary in the context of how the product or service is used.  Then create a matrix with the internal and external attributes on one axis, and the internal attributes only on the other axis.  The matrix creates combinations of internal-to-internal and internal-to-external attributes that we will use to innovate.  We take these virtual combinations and envision them in two ways.  If no dependency exists between the attributes, we create one.  If a dependency exists, we break it.  Using Function Follows Form, we envision what the benefit or potential value might be from the new (or broken) dependency between the two attributes.

Here are attributes of the Facebook experience:

Internal

  • number of friends
  • wall postings (by you)
  • pokes
  • status
  • years on Facebook
  • gender of friends
  • degree of friendship
  • emotional state (happy, sad, angry)
  • nature of friendship (utility, pleasure, or goodness)
  • age
  • current location
  • current activity
  • photos with other people

External

  • time
  • size of friends’ network
  • wall postings (by others)
  • status of friends
  • friend’s demographics (age, gender, etc)

Here is a sample of ideas:

Fb 1.  LOCATION – PHOTOS:  As you move around, Facebook tracks your current location and displays photos on your Facebook page from that geography or features pictures of friends from that area.  It updates dynamically.  A variation is to have your Facebook photos tagged with activities or events.  As you participate in that activity or event, your Facebook page knows to display photos with those tags. People that visit your page get a more context based on where you are traveling.

2.  NATURE OF FRIENDSHIP – SIZE OF FRIEND’S NETWORK:  As your friend’s network changes, Facebook categorizes the nature of your friendship with them to utility-based, pleasure-based, or goodness-based as appropriate.  It does this by examining the nature of your friend’s friendships and suggesting where you might stand as a result.  Perhaps this is an analytical tool offered by Facebook to get a clearer picture of your friendships based on their friendships.  Categorizing friends this way could be a setting to allow different views of their postings on your wall.

Poke 3. EMOTIONAL STATE – POKES:  Facebook tracks your postings and analyzes them semantically to determine your emotional state.  Changes in your mood cause certain friends to be poked.  These selected friends know to respond to your state, and it causes them to post on your wall.  Perhaps this is another analytical tool offered by Facebook to correlate your mood with interactions with friends (and vice versa).  It can tell you more about your friendships overall and perhaps recommend ways to improve them.

4.  FRIEND’S DEMOGRAPHICS – WALL POSTINGS:  Your view of wall postings varies by the friend’s gender, age, etc.  Facebook would offer a “friend switch” to allow you to see just postings by males or by females for example.  The switch is essentially a set of filters that allow you to customize your view at that moment.  You could filter wall postings by single, males, age 30 to 35, who have an interest in a particular hobby.  The benefit is it allows you to eliminate clutter to see more relevant postings.

5.  DEGREE OF FRIENDSHIP – WALL POSTINGS:  Friendship “strength” changes depending on your interaction with each others wall postings.  Facebook essentially helps you categorize friends into degrees of friendship starting with your inner circle (closest of friends) and moving concentrically out to your weak ties.  Facebook tracks visits and postings to friend’s pages and uses the information to update friendship strength.  The current Facebook feature that allows you to selectively hide people’s posting is similar to this idea.  But this new feature is more beneficial as it categorizes people dynamically and gives you a different viewing depending on degree and nature of friendships.