What Mashable Missed About Poke Culture.

Sorry Pete, no hard feelings – but you put my favorite feature on the chopping block; I need to break it down for you.

There is a simple reason why people love poking. As they said “what is poking anyway?”, what does it mean? Am I flirting, saying hello, trying to get your attention? Well the big secret is it doesn’t mean any of these things. In fact it doesn’t mean anything at all; but that’s exactly why it captures our attention.

Curiosity is a trait that many species have, most prominently of course humans. It was a trait initially utilized for finding food, shelter or understand basic functions of the world around us. As we evolved so did curiosity until it became a near thirst for us. It’s the same reason why if you tell a young child to not push the big red button; they will most likely push the big red button.

When it comes to poking the social phenomenon  around it’s reception is created because in our modern society are so well versed in communication we are used to human antics being pretty straight forward. I understand your body language, I understand your tone, I understand your sentences – but what the hell is this “poke”?

Human curiosity gets away from us, are you flirting with me? Are you saying hello? Are you bored? I don’t get it what is it!? It will flat out drive you mad, but it will captivate you entirely.

The people in Facebook marketing department are no new comers to the theories of psychology surrounding human communication new, and the Poke made it’s début early on in Facebook as a great way to get people to come join Facebook:

“Janet just Poked me? What? Better check this out!”

In fact in 2007/2008 while working at an IT Firm as an Internet Marketing Specialist, I preformed a sampling survey of Facebook users in order to determine where they were most active in engaging other people. Here are the results:

On average of those surveyed the data showed that nearly 12% of total Facebook actions were a Poke. Now this data is from quite a few years ago, I’m sure it’s a different landscape – our data from this time also shows the average age of a Facebook user to be somewhere around 14-18. Yet, I don’t think we can truly under estimate the value of the poke and how it used. Even in this survey an astounding 12% of user activity was spent poking; more than messaging.

Prior to the survey I had never dealt with the poke, but when I got to thinking about it I realized it was this handy little nuance that Facebook had created.

The flirters could flirt, the hipsters could be ironic and the kids could have their poke wars. Poking became this meld-able  fluid concept allowing different interactions for different users. It is also the tool on Facebook that I have found people are second most likely to respond to you by. The first being messages. (On a rather ironic note, even though wall posts comprise over 30% of traffic from my 07/08 studies, the response was one-sided 75%+ of the time. Meaning that roughly 42.5% of interactions with Facebook with one-sided and non-conversational. Messages actually had the highest rating of two-way conversation, even before Facebook chat. This means nearly half the time you spent on Facebook you were really just hoping someone was listening while you talked to yourself.)

With Poking being an initial two-way culture, a way to invite, a way to flirt and a way to bug the hell out of your mother when she can’t figure out where the button is, you can rest assured that it wont be gone for too long. There is a large Poke cult out there and they have noticed that the poke is missing; and I’ll eat my hat if we don’t see it back with-in the next month tops.

Yet, I think the biggest thing we are missing is that we’re not hot girls and thus will never truly understand how many pokes can be thrown our way.

(P.S. – Even without a button you can still poke people you have currently been poking, Facebook recently made poking notification worthy, and gave it a new user interface on the Blackberry version of Facebook mobile. Odd move if they plan to kill it)

*The data in this article is comprised of excerpts of data from a 2007-2008 series of independent surveys preformed by myself. They were done on study sampling groups and may not fully account for the entire representation of the average Facebook user.

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