Just in time for Valentine’s Day and for the rest of February, Facebook is allowing users to buy each other icons and post them on other user’s profiles for $1. The social network is calling the icons “gifts.”
Each were designed by Susan Kare, the designer of the original icon set for the Macintosh computer in 1983. The net proceeds from the sale will go to the breast cancer research charity, Komen for the Cure.
The icons include everything from a box with a hole in it, which seems to reference a sketch from Justin Timberlake’s appearance on Saturday Night Live to a heart-shaped box of candy.
Facebook spokesperson Brandee Barker told internetnews.com the
idea for Facebook Gifts came from one of the company’s hack-a-thons where engineers stop working on their individual projects and pull an all-nighter brainstorming for new site features. Facebook chose Komen for Cancer because 1.4 million users were already associated with the cause.
Barker said already 5 million Facebook users posted icons to their friend’s pages. For now, the gift-giving is scheduled to stop at the end of the month. Barker said the company hasn’t decided yet whether it’ll add the gifts or any other micro-payment features in the future.
Danah Boyd, a fellow at USC Annenberg Center and social network industry watcher wrote on her blog that it would be a mistake for Facebook to abandon the gifts.
It’s her theory that the reason Pew Research showed that social network users prefer to communicate publicly rather than privately is that it helps them construct their identity in front of their peers.
If you’re friends with the cool kids or one of them has posted on your profile, you must be a cool kid, too. So how cool does it make you if one of them posts a pink thong on your profile? The answer is the same as when the whole class sees a cool kid drop a Valentine in your basket that says she Choo-Choo-Chooses you.
And the identity construction goes both ways, Boyd said. It’s as good for a social network user to publicly give as to publicly get.
“These expressions are not simply altruistic kindness. The individual doing the expression looks good before his peers. It also prompts reciprocity so that one’s own profile is then also filled with validating comments,” Boyd wrote.
Boyd holds that it’s this desire to create one’s identify that fuels the Facebook machine. So the company is smart to offer another channel for public communication. They could go even further, she wrote.
“To make it work long-term, they need to understand gifting a bit better. It’s about status. It’s about scarcity. It’s about reciprocity and upping the ante,” she wrote. “These need to be worked into the system and evolving this will make Facebook look good, not like they are backpedaling. This is not about gifting being a one-time rush; it’s about understanding the social structure of gifting.”