What Do Facebook Fads Say About Us?

It’s likely that I don’t see all the same fads pop up on Facebook as everyone else; such is the nature of personalized content. But a few have broken through in recent weeks to become genuine hits, and with the exception of an extremely stupid giraffe thing that doesn’t know how plurals work, they all have one thing in common: they’re about you.


Consumer electronics do not enjoy being juggled, apparently.

Consumer electronics do not seem to enjoy being juggled for some reason.

The most complex and visually-oriented of the recent fads, Bitstrips places you and your friends in allegedly comic situations. There are plenty of pre-made hilarious hijinks into which you can insert yourself, but the amount of customization available is pretty impressive. It took a good twenty minutes to construct my avatar, picking eyebrow shapes and skin tones and clothing. A photo-scanning algorithm was presumably beyond the developers, or they just thought that users would enjoy inspecting their own faces in order to create a reasonable simulacrum.

Your character’s body and facial expressions, along with one or two other situational details, can be manipulated within each cartoon. Presumably the real fun starts when you force your friends, also using the Bitstrips app, into compromising positions. I wouldn’t know.

Using Bitstrips on Facebook requires you to “Like” an app and give it permission to post on your behalf. There are also Android and iOS apps.

What Would I Say?

What Would I Say example


The What Would I Say web application started life as a quick project at a Princeton hackathon, but went viral so quickly that my ISP couldn’t even find the site by the time its took over my news feed. (See, domain names, the .com things typed into browsers or clicked via hyperlinks, really point to numerical IP addresses and ports and hosting providers, and it takes a bit of time for the whole Internet to be told about new ones. Note to Comcast: update your DNS servers more frequently. That’s kind of embarrassing.)

The app scoops up a portion of your Facebook posting history, slices and dices it into pieces, and then more or less randomly re-combines those pieces. This process results in mostly nonsensical pronouncements that use words and phrases you’ve used in the past, but with no regard for grammar, punctuation, or meaning. It’s a dumb little bot saying dumb little things that occasionally produces stunning poetic truths. It might or might not reveal what you actually think about any given subject.

What Would I Say claims it never sees or saves your posts, and that everything is done “client side” in your browser. It can also remix “celebrity” posts, meaning anyone with a Facebook Page (rather than just a regular profile).

X Things About Me You Might Not Know

With no supporting app, this status update template could just as easily be a chain letter. You get a number from a friend and you have to write that many little-known factoids about yourself. You can then demand that friends who Like your revelatory list do the same, with a number you provide.

Me, Me, Me

All these fads tap into the core feature of social media: users talking about themselves, while explicitly or implicitly inviting friends to talk about themselves. The methods use more or less computerized assistance to enable our collective narcissism or introspection, but ultimately come down to the fact that we’re all pretty interested in our own stories. Are our friends as interested? Depends on the friends and the stories.

Do you participate in fads like these? Do you find them annoying? Are you confused or relieved I didn’t call them “memes”? Let’s talk about ourselves a bit.

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