i've been meaning to write about this for awhile; finally this weekend after listening to Blake Commagere talk about user behavior patterns @ AppCamp i think the subject has steeped enough in my head to put to pen (or at least my limited understanding of it). in any case, here goes...
Poke: It's not [just] about Sex
"When we created the poke, we thought it would be cool to have a feature without any specific purpose..." - Facebook Help Topic
yeah right. and i read
PlayboyFHM for the articles, too.
When i first heard about Poke (as in Poke on Facebook), as with most people my initial reaction was to smirk & reflect on the sexual connotations of the term. Altho the official line is that Poke was created to be the simplest possible gesture to keep in touch with friends, everybody i've spoken with also thinks about the implied hookup angle as the other meaning of the feature. certainly for the new user / uninitiated, it's almost impossible *NOT* to think about "poke" = "to have sex".
in actuality, I think both interpretations are common. and in fact i believe both are also correct... depending on the circumstance. Going further, i think there are a million possible meanings & interpretations that lie somewhere between those two extremes. Like Aloha for Hawaiians, the context, tone, & inflection of "Poke" is what conveys 90% of its meaning, rather than simply the usage of the word itself. understanding the meaning behind the poke is like looking at a painting by Escher or listening to music by Debussy -- it's all about hearing the spaces *between* the notes / sounds. yeah ok, that sounds like bullshit, but still... well, maybe you just have to poke to get what i mean. if you know what i mean. er, um... ok, whatever.
so let's take a look at the range of meaning that a "poke" could encompass:
The Poke Spectrum
A poke could mean any of the following:
- hey there
- how are you doing?
- i'm too busy to write you an email or call, but i'm thinking about you
- holy crap, did you hear the Red Sox won the ALCS?
- just sent you an email; check it out
- hey let's go have a beer
- did you finish that project yet?
- hey, why haven't you written me an email / wall post lately?
- i just wrote on your wall, check it out
- we're in a poke war, and no way i'm blinking motherfucker.. back atcha!
- gee, you're cute
- i don't really care about you that much, but i'm poking you anyway to make you think i do
- hey respond to my email dammit
- i don't know who you are, but you're cute
- just broke up with my ex, looking for a one-night stand/rebound
- let's have sex
- you're way outta my league & i have no chance of having sex with you, but maybe you'll poke me back anyway
- yo, what up?
now the amazing thing is that at first glance it appears you have very little data to figure out which of these meanings your poke it all about. but if you talk to folks who've been using Facebook for awhile, they'll tell you there are MANY little signals surrounding that poke to help you fill in the gaps. such as:
- have i / they poked recently? how long ago? who poked who last?
- are there recent (or not) emails, phone calls, wall posts, or other info between you?
- is this someone you know well, friendly, or never met before?
- is this person cute, horny, fugly, sought after, a stalker, etc?
- is this person same or opposite sex? older / younger? family member?
- are they a friend bordering on S.O. that you flirt with? are they a friend's S.O that's "off limits"?
- do you work with / go to school with / is there a non-sexual connotation you can claim as excuse?
- is this a business partner / family member where no sexual interpretation is even in question?
- is this a drinking buddy /girls club / team mate?
All in All, It's Just Another Poke on Your Wall?
after collecting all this information & mashing it together, you suddenly have a lot more data than just the poke -- you now have a rich tapestry of social data & fabric knit around the poke; as if the poke were simply one stitch in the pattern (feed?) produced by the jacquard loom of your social network. your job is now to stare at this cloth full of color & texture, discover the embedded micro-patterns, on down into the smallest little social details... and somewhere in the weave, you blissfully arrive fully-awakened and self-aware, comfortably wrapped up in the Zen of Poke.
and it's at that exact moment you become one with the Feed, and every Poke makes perfect sense. OMMMMMMmmmmmmm.
ok, so may that's a little out there, but some part of my own little Facebook hallucination does feel like that. it's weird but i remember the distinct moment when all this "clicked" into place for me -- i was hanging out up at a conference in Seattle, and all of a sudden poke wasn't this weird thing that meant i wanted to bang someone... it was like a light tap on the shoulder in the blogosphere. i started scrolling down a list of friends on my mobile phone and just poking several people at random. poke, poke, poke. and i giggled at myself. i was giddy, drunk with the Power of Poke!
...and it felt like the most natural thing.
except that a month earlier, it would have been the most UNnatural thing.
have you ever had the experience of hearing an unusual new or foreign word for the first-time, and thinking "how strange! what a weird word!", and then a few months later, you're tossing it around like you've said it every day of your life... well that's how it was for me with Poke. i had crossed over.
so at least for me & my over-35 demographic, Poke seems less about hooking up & more about saying "hey there" or just keeping in touch. then again, it's possible i'm not hip enough or young enough (or single enough?) to really see the more flirtatious side of "poke" in all its glory.
in summary: i believe it is possible for Poke to be both Platonic & Playful, both Benign and Sublime, to mean Nothing and yet Everything at the same time. but whichever meaning is intended or interpreted, there is a simple beauty & mystery around Poke which i find fascinating.