One average office day very recently, I sat at a friend’s desk watching him follow live cricket scores online. He would open up a terminal screen, code for a bit, look perplexed about something perplexing to me (the code always looked fine), do a quick alt+tab, check the score on cricinfo, alt+tab back to the terminal screen and well, repeat the cycle all over again. If it had been a T20 match, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, but it was a test match (you all know which one), and we all know how test matches go. Probabilistically speaking, it is fairly unlikely that the score will change in any way (runs, wickets, the number of pigeons snoozing in the rafters) during the duration of one minute that separates successive score checks. But this fact never bothered this friend of mine – he took pleasure, I’d like to think, from the thrill of expectation. A sense of optimism that that lottery ticket will eventually come good for him– not entirely misplaced because the wicket eventually falls and the run is ultimately taken.
This whole ritual sparked off an entire row of lightbulbs in my head because it seemed – so darned – familiar. I wasn’t a fan of test cricket, so amnesia could not explain the déjà vu. Then it struck me.
Facebook’s just like test cricket. Before all you avowed test cricket haters jump on my back, I’ll make a solid case for my statement. How many of us ‘occasional’ Facebookers haven’t been tempted by the little red notification icon on the top left corner of the screen? Tempted to check if someone, somewhere (come on, there are 861 of you, one of you should be saying something to me?) had decided to post something on my wall. Or if I’ve just posted a smashing good status message, at least a handful of that 861 would have liked it, right? I refresh the page, alt+tab to stare vacantly at another screen for a bit, alt+tab back and (hopefully) take in the blissful sight of the little red icon. Ah, peace. For about a minute. A few other folks would have seen my status message by now, surely? No? That’s all right. I’ll be back in a minute.
Every web company out there with half an eye on social networking has spent a hell of a lot of time and money trying to understand how users spend so much time on one web page. What’s driving all that engagement time? I only say - fellow primates, you should just follow some test cricket.