Interviews with UK's First Facebook Users |

Interviews with UK's First Facebook Users

By Richard Fergie / June 3, 2010

It is quite easy for people in this industry to obsess about things which don’t matter to people who aren’t up to their eyebrows in the online marketing world. One recent example of this was the furore over changes to the facebook privacy settings. I was one of the first in the UK to join facebook (in February 2005) but I know people who joined even earlier than that. Rather than give you my opinions about what has changed I messaged old university friends to get the views of long term facebook users who do not work in the online marketing bubble.

The Respondents

  1. Chris Cole currently works for OpenMarket, a mobile transaction hub. Apart from being my friend he is a member of the group “I joined facebook the month it was launched in Oxford, I deserve respect”
  2. JP Hastings-Spital is a massive nerd who has just finished studying Physics at the University of Nottingham
  3. Chris Noon is the person who persuaded me to join facebook. He currently working on his DPhil in Ancient History.
  4. Charlie Thorogood was also a facebook early adopter.
  5. Alex Woods is not such an early adopter but he is just about the only person who doesn’t work in online marketing with whom I’ve ever had a conversation about facebook privacy.

The Questions

1. How did you hear about facebook?
Word of mouth seems to have been the main driver. Both Charlie and Chris Cole were persuaded to join by the same person who, according to Chris, described it as “a hack’s paradise”. In Oxford student slang a hack is someone seeking election in the Oxford Union. Among my generation the political potential of social media seems to have been evident right from the very beginning. Alex also first heard about facebook through word of mouth.
JP first heard about facebook “from an ’emerging technology’ RSS feed, something like Slashdot”. This is the first instance of JP’s responses being a little bit different from the others.

2. Why did you join?
My sample is 100% male. Sex, girls and status were (are) major motivators:
Chris Cole: “Thought it would be good to check out girls (hot or not esque)”
Chris Noon: “I quite fancied one of the girls who invited me”
Charlie: “What’s cooler than being cool?”
JP: “it seemed like a good idea, certainly a whole load better than MySpace which I’d dismissed a few months earlier as irritatingly poorly designed”
Spot the odd one out.

3. What is the best feature they have added over the years?
I agree with Chris Cole and Charlie that photos are the best thing that facebook has done. JP points out that it is the ability to tag friends in photos that really makes this feature work “Being able to tag your friends in the photos you take was an incredibly simple and clever marketing ploy as well as tool. Every event you go to facebook lets you relive the bits that were important to you – because you were there – simultaneously bringing users that had forgotten about facebook right back into the fold.”
Chris Noon is ecstatic about small changes to the interface: “Changing ‘quotes’ to ‘quotations’; changing the status update from ‘X is’ to just ‘X’”. Chris likes good grammar.
Alex actually likes a facebook app! He uses iMusic for finding music videos and tour dates for bands he likes.

4. The worst?
Apps are nearly universally hated. Chris Cole is fed up with “those tossing applications invites”, Charlie says “I couldn’t care less about whether a friend needs only a few more credits for a respray shop and yet my newsfeed is full of this shit”. Chris Noon hates on “Everything that isn’t the wall, the private messaging utility, and the photo album”.
As seen above, Alex thinks that iMusic is one of the best facebook features. However, he hates “any and all facebook games”.
JP doesn’t like the way photo uploads work: “We can upload HD video now but wide-angle shots of groups of friends have people’s faces at about 3 pixels wide”

5. Are you concerned about privacy on facebook? Are you more worried about facebook sharing your data with 3rd parties or people seeing photos of you doing stupid stuff?
Only Alex is very concerned about privacy “I feel I have covered my bases on the privacy settings I’m not sure if there are still things being used that I would not like. 3rd parties [are] more [of] a concern than photos”.
Charlie is not worried about information sharing although he is worried about id theft and “work people seeing me doing stupid things”. Not that he ever does anything stupid.
Privacy is not much of an issue for Chris Cole “not too bothered. I don’t use it much since leaving uni” or Chris Noon “I currently have a policy that if I’m photographed doing something stupid, it’s probably my fault anyway. If I ever go into some sort of important employment (unlikely), I already know how to hide anything incriminating.”
JP: “Privacy is relative. Facebook is a 3rd party to you and your life, if you give details of your life to a friend then you assess to what extent they’re likely to give up your secrets. How secure would you feel giving life stories to a friend with over 200 Million other friends? Something’s bound to slip out. At the end of the day, if I don’t want other people to know about it, I wouldn’t put it up there. If an employer wants to judge me based on what I do in my spare time then that can only be a good thing, I’d have a hard time working for people that don’t take life with a pinch of salt.”

6. What other social networking sites do you use?
JP and Chris Noon were both MySpace users. However, Chris “got rid of it in favour of The Facebook, as it once was, pretty quickly”. JP maintains “accounts with most major social networking sites” but “Twitter is the only one I use regularly […] My Linked In account is kept up to date, tho I’ve never really seen the point of it”.
Chris Cole also uses LinkedIn and Twitter. His description of his use of Twitter is interesting: “I much prefer [facebook] status update to using twitter […] I have started to get into twitter as a centralised news service, different bbc feeds, economist, new scientist etc. I do get pissed off with Hammer [@mchammer] going out for dinner… I like the status aspect of facebook as a way to share what you’re up to (although i don’t use it anymore) twitter would get so cluttered if this was what i used it for”. Hmmm
Alex uses Bebo. I have no idea what for.

7. What, if anything, would make you leave facebook?
JP describes why it is hard to leave facebook: “I have a lot of data invested in Facebook which (irritatingly) can’t all be taken elsewhere – especially as many of the photos & posts I’d want to keep aren’t even my own. It’s also a fantastic address book, especially as I move about giving potential to lose touch with old friends”. He says he would scrape his data and leave “if facebook sold my personal information”. Keeping in touch with old friends is also important for Chris Cole; he would only leave because of a “lack of interest in keeping contact details of friends from uni”
Chris Noon isn’t concerned about that; he wants a “genuinely fast and efficacious client for the Blackberry Storm (I’m still waiting and sick of it taking half an hour to write a message…)”. He doesn’t say where he is planning on going to…

8. What apps/games do you use?
Only Alex uses any apps apart from the defaults (Photos etc.) although Chris Cole admits that “I think I once sent/ received a free gift – I think this was the first app or something”. JP prefers apps for facebook to facebook apps: “I tend to use dedicated apps with Facebook integration rather than Facebook apps directly. Every iPhone game I have hooks into Facebook for social data and I use Facebook to log into sites like”
Alex uses iMusic and the PHD comics app. The PHD comics app is basically an RSS feed as are the accounts Chris Cole follows on Twitter (see question 6). Does RSS have any traction outside of the tech crowd? Would you be better off pushing a facebook/twitter account rather than an RSS feed?

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