What would Facebook's 500 million active users do if the world's largest social network were to be shut down? Better yet, what would you do?
That was the topic covered in a study conducted at Stanford by Andreas Weigend, the former chief scientist of Amazon, who asked respondents to imagine a scenario where Facebook were shut down and all its data destroyed. Can we live without the service? The results provide insight into what matters most to users of social networks.
According to the study, approximately 40% of respondents would back up photos, compared with the 38.7% who said they would back up contacts, which suggests that pictures are just as important to social networking as having contacts. "Photos are a very important way to maintain richness in social relations," says Chuanyang Chee, who helped Weigend conduct the study. Indeed, the study attempts to show how social networks are important in creating a "collective memory," and how its features, such as photo albums, help contribute to "each individual's online autobiography." About 38% of respondents said photos were Facebook's most important feature, whereas only 28% said the newsfeed was its best feature.
Of course, a smaller percentage of respondents provided a refreshing answer to the question: They would do nothing if Facebook were ending. Chee says that this small segment actually didn't care about whether their Facebook account were deleted, but only because they either "already backed up all their contacts or because they use another program to store all their photos."
Still, there were some—an unfortunately tiny fraction of respondents—who would not be concerned if Facebook ended, even if meant losing all their data. "These are people who are in touch with their close friends—they already have all their necessary information," explains Chee. "So it's not as important to them to stay in touch through Facebook."
Wait, friends exist outside Facebook?