One of Facebook's most important products was inspired by the way people communicated 100 years ago

Although Facebook is a company built on technology, some of Facebook’s products and features have been inspired by the way people used to communicate hundreds of years ago.

The Newsfeed, for example, is based on really simple, primitive forms of communication — like the way gossip used to spread in small towns years and years ago.

Paul Adams, now Vice President of Product at Intercom, worked at Facebook as a product manager for a year in 2011 and then took over as the global head of brand design in 2012 before leaving the company in 2013. He described the types of conversations the Facebook team would have around product development in a recent interview with Business Insider.

“You often think about villages or communities or towns from 100 years ago where things are very small, and gossip spreads really fast, and everyone knew everyone else, and people left the doors open at night,” Adams said. “And talk about that and how life has changed, and then try and figure out what that means for Facebook. Like, what does it mean to create a sense of community using a technology like Facebook.”

Adams described Facebook as more of a “social psychology” company that a tech company.

The employees at Facebook aren’t just well-versed in subjects like technology, engineering, business, and communication — according to Adams, there are also plenty of people at the company that have backgrounds in urban planning and architecture, too.

In fact, Facebook would talk a lot about urban planning, examining things like why certain areas of a city would be packed and others would be empty.

“An interesting thing in Manhattan, for example, is that some of these squares are filled with people at lunch — teeming with people,” Adams said. “And a square very close by across the street could be empty. And they could both be sunny — on paper, you could look at the two and say ‘Wow, why is one filled with people and the other one totally empty?'”

The team at Facebook would dig into these ideas and try to apply them to their own products.

“They’d get into the weeds of studying that, loads of literature and academic literature and these types of things,” Adams said. “It’s all social psychology. The team at Facebook would talk about these things, debate these things, and then talk about Newsfeed.”

In Facebook’s mind, the Newsfeed replaces these areas in towns and cities designated for social interaction by allowing people to catch up with one another virtually.

“Your Newsfeed is this melting pot of conversation the same way the town square would have been like a long time ago,” Adams said.

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