Facebook really wants people to keep wishing each other a happy birthday on the social network, so it’s launching a new birthday feature and throwing it a party to celebrate.
Called Birthday Stories, it will let people post images, videos or digital cards to friends’ Facebook Stories — the vertical posts that sit on top of the News Feed and disappear after 24-hours — congratulating them on successfully aging a year. The festive content will then be shown to all the celebrant’s friends via their Stories feed, though they can opt out.
Birthday Stories are the latest in a long line of attempts by Facebook to freshen up a dependable source of engagement for the service, and the latest to promote its relatively new Stories option. And I feel that I, a person who does not use Facebook stories or celebrate Facebook birthdays, may be the target audience and the company knows it.
You see, tomorrow is my birthday.
Perhaps the announcement is the ultimate bit of targeted advertising. To promote Birthday Stories’ global launch on the day I came into this world, Facebook is getting 50 bakeries across the United States to offer a free treat to anyone who comes in. You are welcome.
Like many people, I hid my birthday on Facebook years ago. Concealing the date of my birth is not some sort of test to see who remembers it (unless you are married to me). I was fatigued by the sometimes chilly tradition of people typing “HBD” and thinking I had to come up with some sort of response for each. I am fine not getting birthday wishes on the tenth of May. Each year just brings me closer to death and gives me a reason to eat a Fudgie the Whale ice-cream cake by myself.
There is also a practical reason for not sharing my birth date, which is tomorrow, online. Personal information such as a first pet’s name (Gaucho) or mother’s maiden name (McBoatface) is fun to share in a quiz or a meme, but it can easily be used by criminals to answer security questions and access your sensitive accounts.
Despite any security issues, Facebook has always been birthday central — more so than other networks, except maybe LinkedIn. In 2011, Facebook added the ability to wish friends a happy birthday on their Wall (what it used to call their profile page). In 2013 it launched birthday notifications so it was obvious who knew it was your birthday and just opted not to say anything (ahem, Andrew). A year later, it took the birthday messages and turned them into animated movies to make it “easier to consume the wishes,” as Facebook product manager Jehan Damji told CNN Business ahead of the launch.
Some of these birthday plans worked better than others. Facebook birthday fundraisers have taken off and raised millions of dollars for good causes such as the International Rescue Committee. But the social network shuttered its Gifts service, which let people send real presents such as teddy bears and Starbucks gift cards to mark the special day.
As Facebook struggles to retain younger users, keeping the birthday interaction alive is one way to try and lure people back onto the site at least once a year. It’s a chance to remind people who they’re connected to on the network, and perhaps convince them to stick around for a while.
Like birthdays, Stories are another thing Facebook is dead set on making popular. It started as a Snapchat feature that Instagram cloned with great success. Two years ago, Stories were ported over to Facebook. The company now says 500 million people use them daily, but did not specify how many were posting versus watching.
The new Birthday Stories feature could breathe life into distant relationships, and perhaps whip up more enthusiasm for Facebook Stories itself. Or it could fizzle out after a few years of people sending the same videos.
What I know for sure is that on Friday, May 10, my birthday, I am going to share my birth date on my Facebook account for the first time in years, and possibly post to Facebook Stories for the first time ever. Because as much as I love security and avoiding awkward social interactions, I kind of miss people saying nice things to me on my birthday.