I pretty much agreed with Fred Stutzman out of the gate on the Facebook gifts feature when he said that the pricing and demand wasn't there appropriately for these to work out terribly well. Well, it's about four months now since the introduction of the Facebook gifts capacity and I thought that was as arbitrary an occasion as any to look back and contemplate its failure. My specific inspiration for this is that recently with the F8 facebook platform in place there is a 'Free gifts' application which is exactly what it sounds like. I know I'm not eager to give more publicity and hype to the facebook machine but hey, bandwagon.
In my anecdotal experience the gifts went something like this for every friend I had on facebook: You had one free gift and you chose it reasonably carefully (perhaps) and gave it to one particular person, or you perhaps hoarded it and then, at some later junction, you gave it to one particular person. Then you became aggravated at the distraction of the 'Give a Gift' button on everyone's wall.
As of this writing there are 177 gifts available for purchase in the 'catalog' many of them 'limited edition' but really none of them having fewer than 100,000 available for purchase, many with 1,000,000 and several with 10,000,000. I think some went out of stock originally and are since gone. All the same, any current movement could probably be accounted for by new registrations--that 3% growth that everyone always talks about with Facebook. Just speculative, I suppose, but I think any purchases are really exceptions to the rule. Maybe Facebook's PR line differs, but coming from a school which is decidedly posher, I might expect, than the median facebook user's, if there was going to be purchasing I think my demographic might be leading the way a little bit. It's not happening.
Danah Boyd envisioned the gifts as being unsustainable long term in their then-current form, which looks to have been pretty spot on, too. I also originally felt great resonance with Danah's suggestion that scarcity should be involved more--Facebook almost started out really strong on this one when they had a limited introduction school by school which had people excited and wondering what the gifts were all about. Within a relatively short timespan, though, all interest had waned.
I guess at this point I'm looking to see if either something shifts with the gift strategy (evolution) or they're swept under the rug (extinction). I wonder if the additional bandwidth cost of those characters of code and occasional server calls for gift images etc has cost Facebook money relative to gift revenue?
Final note: super-sharp readers will see I've tagged this post 'social networking site' despite the fact that Facebook likes not to be called that anymore. Maybe they'll change their name to a symbol next...
Update: 2:20 am - Apparently four of my friends, newsfeed tells me, have recently received the 'congrats grad' gift! Check first, though--two of them are a couple and these are their first gift-givings, and the other two... well, I can't explain those immediately, but it's not very statistically significant given the dearth of gifting I should have been seeing given the depth of my friend-pool. Oh well.
One More Note: Inside Facebook has some nice info on the Free Gifts app which inspired this post.