Facebook: To Poke or Not to Poke

Sat, Dec 18, 2010, by Shauna Zamarripa

Social Networks

A poke is a poke is a poke, right? What is all of this Facebook poking business and why do we have it? More importantly, why do we care? This is my exploration into the seedy underbelly of the poking world.

Chances are, if you have been on Facebook for any length of time you’ve been poked. I would further surmise that you might have done some poking yourself. Facebook’s poke feature is thoroughly (well, as much as it can be) explained in the Help Center of the website. Poking cited as a benign feature, used to get the attention of someone on your friends list, or to say hello. But, is this description of one of Facebook’s most abused feature accurate? This reporter does not think so. After all, it isn’t as if a huge finger jumps out of a computer and jabs someone in the eyeball when you hit the poke button (but it would be completely cool if it did). In fact, getting poked on Facebook is about as benign as you can get, since pokes don’t have the nifty red alert feature that comes with status and game updates. Pokes seem to get lost in the shuffle in the seedy underbelly of Facebook, remaining in their own quiet corner on the right hand side of your screen. (At least for now, you never know when the brainchildren of Facebook will adjust that too)

A Little Poking History

When Facebook hit the mainstream in 2006 under the flag of the now well-known and popular Mark Zuckerberg, programmers in the proverbial Facebook think tank came up with a plethora of ideas for the website. Apparently the think tank is still running in overdrive, as Facebook users are constantly combating the changes associated to the website for it’s most popular features, such as the News Feeds and Status Update button. Of course, intertwined in all of this social media madness, the Poke feature cannot be dismissed, nor should it.

So, what was the thought process behind the Poke?

A previous version of Facebook’s FAQ gave additional insight into the origin of the feature, stating: “When we created the poke, we thought it would be cool to have a feature without any specific purpose. People interpret the poke in many different ways, and we encourage you to come up with your own meanings.”

Basically, no one knows what the heck a poke is, not even Facebook programmers, elitists and self proclaimed experts (despite the fact that the new definition is found on the website—wow, it only took them 4 years to come up with one). Users can poke until their heart is content and never really have any rhyme or reason for it. People poke back and forth, over and over again in a “poking war” until once side eventually gives up.

What’s the big deal?

Even though poking is a somewhat benign and useless feature without any rhyme or reason behind it, the feature has birthed some of my favorite status updates:

“If you’re going to keep poking me, you need to at least buy me dinner first.”

“Quit poking me, my arm hurts!”

“Don’t make me poke you.”

“Don’t poke me, I’m not that kind of girl.”

All in all, while no one seems to know what a poke is, why it’s there, or why on earth some dude from Uruguay keeps poking me when he isn’t on my friends list, it is nice to know that we, the user can make up any number of arrays of meanings and entendres to keep Facebook fun. So, there you have it, the seedy underbelly of Facebook, in all of it’s poking prestige. 

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