Obsessed with the "25 Random Things" meme on Facebook

I've become obsessed with the "25 random things" meme that's sweeping over Facebook.  One, they're fantastic reads, especially of people who I'm friends with but don't really know - I get to learn all sorts of things about them that I didn't know.  Two, they just make me happy.  They're almost universally positive, rather than being negative, "woe is me" depressive missives.  If you know anything about me, a lot of what drives me is finding ways to make other people happy - from being a Democrat (not having to worry about health care lets you have more time to do other stuff) to starting Dawdle (being able to sell stuff online quickly gives you more time to do other stuff).  Third, the mechanics of how and why it took off in the last week are fascinating.

Let's look at the instructions:
Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to "notes" under tabs (or the + sign) on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)


At first, I thought 25 was way too many things to write, and spreading it to 25 people was way too many people to tag.  However, I was clearly wrong on both accounts.  One, even though there's a fair amount of platitudes, most people are interesting enough to have a good proportion of the 25 things be worthwhile.  This makes it more likely that, as News Feeds get flooded, people will take the time to read them.  Secondly, tagging 25 people not only introduces a cute little parallelism, but it accounts for the dropoff in participation rates.  If only ten percent of those tagged write their own note, that's 2.5 new notes that are written.

Secondly, the clear deliniation of steps is important.  In my experience, this is the first new Note written by the vast majority of my friends.  A quick unscientific sample of other non-Facebook friends who I communicate with via Twitter and IM shows this pattern to be the same for them, as well.  Not only do the instructions tell the user what to do, they tell the user *where* the link is to complete the action.  This is enabled because of the consistency of Facebook's interface - good luck trying to pull this off on MySpace, Tumblr, or any other site where users can make themes or mess with CSS.

Lastly, there's an instruction of *why* to write the list.  The reason of "If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you." shows that this isn't an exercise in self-promotion; it's an invitation - a favor for someone else.  Because people are basically good, if the favor is small enough, it becomes easy to do.  The recipient gets something they couldn't do themselves, and the giver gets the satisfaction (and some measure of happiness) of doing something for someone else.

Finally, the fact that Facebook Notes have comments further increases both the utility and the viral nature of the meme.  Users come back to the same note to see additional comments, and comments left allow people who weren't tagged, who weren't friends with the poster, or those whose News Feeds did not pick it up the first time around, to become aware of the Note.  As far as I can tell, there isn't a tab or selection just to see Notes in Facebook - the only way to come across them is to see them in the News Feed (much more likely) or to randomly stumble upon them by looking at someone's profile (you're more likely to look at a profile after seeing a Note in the News Feed than the other way around, I believe).

One of the things we've seen is that Facebook apps have completely lost their virality after the redesign of profile pages - people are trying to spread new apps by embedding them in apps that already exist on users' profile pages.  I'm not too sure if the viral nature of Notes can be replicated - asking about favorite movies, music, and the like are redundant with existing fields on profile pages.  And the text-based nature of the Notes feature limits its usability.  Perhaps Notes will turn into a semi-private blogging platform (as opposed to the public blogging platform of Posterous, Wordpress, TypePad, Tumblr, etc), but if that was the case, I'd guess that would have happened already.  I cannot see people tagging others as a recurring behavior, as it becomes as spammy as the applications who were doing that became, which necessitated the redesign to a certain extent.  Plus, the tagging goes against the intended use of the feature, which Facebook has shown a particular disgust for over the years.

In the end, what fascinates me about the "25 random things" meme is that 1) I was able to learn lots of interesting things, and 2) it seems unlikely to be replicated in a substantially similar form again despite its utility to create happiness, and 3) happiness is awesome. 
2 responses
There is a way to just view Notes, other than them appearing on the News Feed. From the homepage, click on "More" under "Applications" (on the upper right-hand side of the screen) and then click on Notes. It lets you sort by Friends' Notes, Notes about you, and off to the side, there is the handy "Recently Tagged Friends" list.

I really enjoy reading my friends' "25 Things" too, and it seems like even the people who are annoyed about Facebook possibly turning into Myspace over stuff like this (a claim I've heard twice now) still read them. I bet they'll even write their own soon enough.

I was inspired in the same way you were when I read my friends' 25 Random Things. I think it's a great meme, gets people communicating on a meaningful level, and fills a gaping hole in the Facebook platform. For as many bells and whistles as Facebook has crammed into the new profile, it's obvious that a "social space" where I and all my friends can congregated and discuss. I'm trying to create that space in my application "25 Random Things" (the one with the brown and red bingo chip logo - there's an imposter app out there!). Give it a try and let me know what you think. There's a great amount of potential in this meme, I think.

-graham