How would you describe Facebook without the Internet?

With all the Social Media buzzwords floating around, someone who was not born with a smartphone in their hands would find the idea of Facebook extremely complex. I tried to explain the concept of Facebook to my parents. However, I realized that some user-interface elements obvious to me were not obvious to someone who equates their computer with nothing except email.

Facebook does a great job of marketing itself. But in my opinion, Facebook does not do a good job of explaining user interface elements to non-technical users. Otherwise, basic Facebook concepts such as Wall, Posts, Comments, Message, Tagging, and Targeted Advertisements would be extremely clear to everyone.

This post is my attempt to explain the various components of Facebook to non-technical users. Let’s assume for a moment that there is no Internet. Describing Facebook without Internet is like describing automobiles without roads, but I’m still making an attempt!

For example, people in ancient civilizations – where modern technology was non-existent – still had a ‘Social Network’. How did they communicate with each other?

Let me tell you a story about ‘Social Network’ in a world without Internet, phones, emails, or smartphones.

Welcome to NoGizmo. NoGizmo is a small (imaginary, I hope) town with around 100 residents. As the name suggests, they have no phones, computers, or Internet. However, they have a very unique way of communicating with each other. This story is about Amy, Bob, and Jim who live in NoGizmo.

The Wall – the main feature

Residents have a whiteboard in front of their houses. They can write anything on the whiteboard. For example, Jim writes short messages about his day-to-day activities. People walking by read the whiteboard.

The Post – communicating with the world

Jim wrote on his whiteboard ‘There’s a huge sale in Home Depot.

The Comment – responding to posts

Amy walked past Jim’s house and she saw the post. Amy picked up a marker and wrote under Jim’s post ‘I’d like to shop there too!

The Security  – allowing only selected people to view/comment on the post

Jim did not want everyone adding comments on his whiteboard. He placed his whiteboard behind a glass door and locked it. He gave copies of the key to selected people who could unlock the glass door to write comments. When Bob walked past, he saw Jim’s message, but could not write on the whiteboard since he did not have a copy of the key to open the glass door.

Messages – sending personal messages not visible to the world

Bob decided to throw a secret party for Amy. He wrote a letter on a piece of paper and dropped it off at Jim’s house. Jim read the message and wrote a reply to Bob on a piece of paper and dropped it off at Bob’s house. They had now planned a party. Only Jim and Bob knew about the party. This was because, communication between Jim and Bob was not conducted on the notice board. This particular communication was private.

Photos and Tagging – sharing photos and identifying (tagging) people

Jim pasted a photo he took with Bob and Amy on the whiteboard. Jim marked the names of the people on the whiteboard under the photo – Amy, Bob, Jim.

Remove Tagging – removing identification

Amy did not want her name on the photo. She walked past Jim’s house, and with her key, she opened the glass door to Jim’s whiteboard. Amy erased her name under the photo.

Advertisements – displaying ‘relevant’ advertisements

The Ad Company  (AdCo) saw the whiteboards as a great opportunity to advertise various products to people. AdCo now has a small space on every whiteboard where it advertises products related to the interests of the people writing on the whiteboard. For example, Amy posted that she plans to go skating. So, AdCo advertised skating gear on Amy’s whiteboard. If Amy saw the advertisement and went to the local sports store to purchase skates, AdCo would get a 5% cut from sale.

Here’s how virtual elements in Facebook compare to real-world objects in NoGizmo:

  • Wall = Whiteboard
  • Post = message/announcement by the owner of the Wall.
  • Comments = response to a Post or a Photo.
  • Security = a locked or unlocked whiteboard; allowing only certain people to comment.
  • Messages = personal messages only visible to the intended recipients.
  • Tagging Photos = identifying/marking photos.
  • Remove Tagging = removing identification.
  • Targeted Ads = advertisements based on the demographic/interests of the user.

The next time your parents/grandparents ask you about Facebook, just ask them to read my story about NoGizmo. I am sure they will enjoy it.

By the way, I’m glad I don’t live in NoGizmo. I can’t live without the Internet or my gizmos!