If you’ve attended any birthday parties or baby showers lately, there’s a good chance you found out about the bash through Facebook.
When people who quit the social network talk about their experience, missing out on random social gatherings usually pops up on the (often short) list of downsides.
But even though Events have been a core part of the Facebook experience pretty much since the social network launched, the product hasn’t seen the kind of dramatic evolution as other features like chat. That fact caught the eye of an employee named Aditya Koolwal about a year and a half ago.
“Events was kind of just in ‘maintenance mode,'” he says. “It wasn’t something that the company was actively investing in.”
At the time, Koolwal worked on News Feed, but decided that he wanted to help get some new things cooking in Events. So, he wrote a proposal and — voila! — he got transferred to the Events team.
It only had three people on it.
Mission: Real world
The first thing they needed: A new mission statement.
“Our goal became to help people spend more time together in the real world,” he says. “With a very heavy emphasis on ‘real world.’ We wanted to be the product team inside Facebook whose explicit goal is to get you off of Facebook.”
As they started digging into more data about the kind of events people planned and attended, they realised that the main use case of Events wasn’t, as one might expect, private parties thrown among friends. Rather, they noticed that majority of Events created were actually community-based, open invitations attracting farther-flung crowds, like farmers’ markets, festivals, or garage sales.
Because Facebook originally built Events almost exclusively with college-aged dorm room revelry in mind, Koolwal and the team started tweaking the tool to make it better for non-private events, adding visual details, information prompts, and new discovery methods.
Here’s a look at how Events looked in 2011 (left) vs today (right):
A big part of the change was new notifications that effortlessly let people know which events their friends are attending. You may have noticed this on your own News Feed: While scrolling past pics of your friend’s new puppy or the fiance of your high school acquaintance, you might see that two of your friends are going to an event that you could, hypothetically, also attend.
Click the story and you’ll be presented with a visuals-heavy, scrollable list of other related activities:
If Koolwal and his team — which has grown to about 50 people in the last year and a half — want Facebook to bring more people together, it needs them to start thinking of the social network as the place to plan their Saturday night.
The first step is highlighting events on News Feed and through notifications, but eventually Facebook expects users to start navigating to the Events tab on default.
Although Koolwal said Facebook has no plans to release a designated, Events discovery app right now, it’s not a stretch to assume it will happen someday — Facebook already has spin-off apps for Messenger and Groups.
While gushing about the little improvements his team has made, Koolwal also highlights one incident that he considers a success story:
Every year, San Francisco’s Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture holds a goat festival where it invites people to come meet a bunch of animals from local farms. Usually, the event attracts less than 100 people to come hang out with goats and learn about local agriculture.
This year, though, CUESA’s Facebook event got way more attention that usual. People in the comments section started calling it Goatchella because it was taking place the same weekend as the music festival Coachella. Several thousand people showed up to chill with the billys.
It was the social network’s News Feed and notifications algorithms working their magic.
“We want to keep pushing how efficient we can be at making people find out about this stuff,” he says. “People never would have known about this event otherwise.”
Warm-fuzzies about connecting little kids with livestock to learn about sustainable farming aside, making community Events a bigger deal on Facebook makes business sense for the company, too.
If people start planning more of their offline social lives on FB and the tool becomes more optimised for big, public gathers, organisations that want to hold huge events have more incentive to boost posts about their own on News Feed.
Or, as people get used to checking their Events tab on Facebook for discovery, businesses could pay to have their bonanza appear at the top.