In the past year, my mom has signed up, used, and benefitted from Facebook in ways few could have imagined just two or three years ago. The fastest growing population on Facebook has been the 55+ age group, with over 900% growth in 2009-2010 alone. People who are 55 years or older are from my parents’ generation (although my mother is below 50, I’ll include her, since she displays the same characteristics when it comes to technology use). These are the same people who are quite often frustrated by technology and just feel excluded or left out by “new techno-gizmos and whiz-bangs.” Sometimes, technology is downright cast off and derided as unnecessary or diversionary, no matter the usefulness.
Facebook has shattered these notions for many people, including my own mother. This highlights a crucial point: Facebook has passed the “mom test.” The prize? A user experience that’s the envy of most of the tech industry.
Simply put, Facebook required absolutely zero explanation for my mother to start using and engaging with the service. I cannot understate what a feat that is. Almost everything my mother’s learned to perform on a computer has been painstakingly taught to her step-by-step, and often several times over. For one reason or another, she faces a steep learning curve for most computer-related tasks.
Not for Facebook; not at all. There’s something about the way they’ve arranged the site. It’s self-explanatory and intuitive. Her virtual social experience feels like the real one, or an enhanced form that she can definitely get used to.
In fact, she’s even gone beyond simple, introductory uses of the site and engaged with advanced forms. As an Iranian-Armenian who left Iran during the 1979 Revolution, she was suddenly cut off from her childhood community and social circle. Friends from high school and the community at large were scattered across the globe, out of touch for decades. With the rapid adoption of Facebook around the world, she’s now reconnecting with many of her old friends from Iran she hasn’t seen or spoken to for decades. These people have grown up, moved to other countries, raised families, and now they’re all finding each other again, posting photos from their high school, from those days way back, through special Groups pages and other communal gathering sites on Facebook.
This is, for people of that generation, a fairly elaborate use of the site, and it’s all taken place without outside assistance. For my mom, making these near-impossible reconnections was an intuitive experience. It just flowed, like the rest of the service just flows. Some have even called it a “trance” that it sucks you, where you just float from profile to profile, photo to photo. Sometimes, trances lead you to emotionally powerful moments like reconnecting with lost friends across the globe.
Perhaps the interface isn’t that intuitive, but she’s such a social butterfly that Facebook’s reward has outweighed any of the potential downsides in learning how to use it that she’s overcome them with ease? It’s certainly possible, but one thing remains true: Facebook’s proving easy enough for people 55 and older to adopt it faster than any other age group, and that’s when you know, as a tech company, you’ve nailed your product.