#oneaday Day 936: Biggest != Best

No, I’m not talking about penises.

Let’s talk about Facebook.

Facebook is massive. Facebook has taken over most people’s daily existence on the Web to such a degree that there are plenty of people out there who genuinely believe that it is the Web. Like, all of it.

It’s not. But then you probably knew that already.

But the fact stands that it is a massive global phenomenon, and something that has happily grown and evolved over time from its humble beginnings up to the multi-bajillion dollar business it is today.

Thing is, though, as it’s grown, it’s sort of lost sight of what it’s for.

“Facebook is a social tool that connects you with people around you,” the login screen used to say. When adding a friend, you used to have to indicate how you knew them, and the recipient of that friend request had to verify your story. It was actually quite a good idea that got around the MySpace “friend collecting” issue, whereby people would just add and add and add each other and then not talk to any of their 40,000 friends. Facebook’s systems ensured that you 1) were actually friends with the people you marked as friends and 2) didn’t fall into the “popularity contest” trap.

Whizz forward to today, and the Facebook of 2012 is a very different place. Now we get people promising “2,000+ friend requests” if you Like one of their pictures. I don’t want two thousand friends. I want my online friends to reflect people I actually know, and occasionally give me the opportunity to meet someone new who is relevant to my interests and/or knows people that I know. Give me two thousand newcomers from all over the world, all of whom are vying for my attention simply to make some arbitrary number higher than everyone else, and you sort of lose that.

Part of the reason for this change is the different in what Facebook thinks we should use it for these days. I first joined the site quite a while after many of my friends had — at the time, I assumed it was going to be one of those passing fads like MySpace, and would quickly disappear into obscurity. But I found its value while on a trip to the States to visit my brother — while abroad, I could share the photographs I’d taken and easily stay in touch with my friends as a large group rather than emailing them individually. It was nice.

Over time, things started to shift. Facebook’s big change to something a bit closer to its current layout upset a lot of people, and the addition of “applications” marked the beginning of how the social network looks now. At the time, I was of the attitude that the people complaining about it were bleating on about nothing, but in retrospect they may have had a point. As everyone’s news feed started filling up with FarmVille brag posts, the signal to noise ratio started getting worse.

Then came the brands. Facebook undoubtedly thought they were doing everyone a favour when they opened up the previously “personal” social network to companies and businesses who wanted to grow their social presence. And in some cases, it worked well, with companies able to engage with their customers and post important information as and when needed.

Unfortunately, this too lost the plot somewhere. Now, pretty much every brand page uses the same obnoxious “engagement strategies” to keep people commenting, talking and Liking — the worst of which by far is the fucking awful “fill in the blank” status update that invites commenters to give their own meaningless opinion on something utterly asinine and irrelevant to the company’s product. (“My favorite color is ____________!” proclaimed the Facebook Page for The Sims 3 on one memorable occasion. Over four thousand people replied.)

You see, people seem to absolutely love posting things that have absolutely no value. People love thinking their opinion is important, that they are being listened to, that the things they say are somehow valuable to someone.

The things you say are valuable to someone. The people they are important to are called your family and friends. Not the PR representative for The Sims 3. They don’t care what your favourite colour is. They just want you to keep giving them page impressions and comments and Likes.

Likes. Fuck Likes. The Like button is Facebook’s most enduring legacy, and one of the biggest blows to actual communication in today’s connected world. Why comment any more when you can just click “Like”? It means nothing, particularly when it’s connected to a sentence for which the verb “like” is completely inappropriate. (“My grandad died. So sad right now.” “Insensitive Twat likes this.”) It’s a meaningless metric designed to measure how many people have seen something you have posted and want to interact with it, but are slightly too lazy to actually write anything.

The diminishing sense of Facebook’s usefulness for actual communication is perhaps best exemplified by the current way someone’s profile looks. Known as “Timeline”, the theory behind it is that it is an easy to navigate history charting everything interesting that has happened in someone’s life.

It’s a sound plan. Unfortunately its implementation is just terrible.

The problem is that there’s no consistency in how posts show up, and seemingly no understanding of how people read content. Leaving aside the fact that one’s profile cover image and fairly pointless basic information takes up over 500 lines — or nearly half of a 1920×1080 display — there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason as to what gets posted at the “top” of one’s profile.

The conventions established by blogs and earlier social networks dictate that the most recent things go at the top, so anyone checking in on someone’s page doesn’t have to scroll around or search to find something new. Yet with all the sources from which Facebook can pull information these days — games, external sites, apps, Spotify, Netflix —  there is no consistency in what goes where. For example, at the time of writing, this is what the top of my Timeline looks like:

What a mess, and very little of it is stuff that I 1) actively shared and 2) feel people really need to know. I deliberately shared the RunKeeper stuff because I like sharing my fitness achievements because it helps keep me honest, but I have no need to show people who eight of my friends are, nor do people need to know that I achieved Bronze Level 2 in Five-O Poker, a game I reviewed earlier in the week and specifically told not to share shit on my timeline. At the other end of the spectrum, pages that I have “Liked” elsewhere on the Internet — and thus wanted to share with others, perhaps because I wrote them or just found them interesting — have been unhelpfully collected into a single box that shows just four of them. This behaviour changes seemingly daily, with Liked pages sometimes showing up as individual posts on one’s Timeline (useful) and sometimes being collected into that box (not useful). At the time of writing, Facebook appears to have decided that “not useful” is the way to go on this one.

Let’s scroll down a few “page heights” and see what else we have:

The left column? Sort of all right. The right column, though?

SO MUCH IRRELEVANT CRAP.

Including posts from games that I 1) didn’t press a “Share” button in once and 2) have since removed from my Facebook account.

There. After five screen-heights worth of scrolling, I finally get to one thing that I actually want to share with people — my recent WordPress posts, aka a feed from this blog to my Facebook Timeline. Again, though, like the Likes, they have been collected together into a box that displays very little relevant information and, in this case, is put in a stupid, stupid place. Why stupid? Because the most recent post in that little WordPress.com box came considerably after the RunKeeper post at the top of my Timeline — and certainly considerably after all the spammy crap those games have plastered all over that infuriatingly useless right column.

“Facebook is a social tool that connects you with people around you” my arse. “Facebook is a digital scrapbook maintained by a five-year old with ADHD,” more like.

I’ll see you on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “#oneaday Day 936: Biggest != Best

  1. Matt Mason

    You sort of have to make Facebook your own, and that takes a lot of work. And that’s sad. I remember when a friend invited me on and it looked like a utopia compared to MySpace. Although nobody would catch the meaning, I only “like” things that I “like.” It’s a novel concept, but one that’s lost in the grand scheme of things.

    I don’t “like” products of any sort; instead I comment on things that interest me. Between that and blocking any and all game updates that float on my screen, my Facebook experience is fairly straight-forward. That, and my friends list is relegated to people that are friends. I have 106 and I’m OK with that.

    I know Twitter seems like a better bet, but I’ve been having a time of it. There’s forced adver-tweets which are annoying. Also irk-some are arbitrary updates from apps like Raptr or horoscopes that I’m not sure how to filter. Sometimes, like Foursquare or RunKeeper, I don’t mind because someone manually inputted those; but the aforementioned drive me crazy.

    I’ve also noticed friend collecting a bigger practice on Twitter as well. I don’t lock my account because it’s a nice way of getting my writing out into the world, but I do filter “followers” on a daily basis.

    And since I’m using your blog as something of a soapbox of social networking hate, the most bothersome thing about Twitter for me is the stream-of-thought diarrhea that some people pump out on to my feed. I enjoy many of the things these people have to say, but at some point I stop caring, usually somewhere between @ replying to people that won’t give you the time of day and arbitrarily noting that you’re on your phone while pooping.

    *Phew!*

    Sorry Pete, I’ve been on a bent about what I want out of social networks and what their developers seem to think I need. If it weren’t a key way for me to keep tabs on family and people like you, I’d almost say “fuck it” and pull the plug. I’ll step off this mini-blog now…

    Reply
  2. Mados

    I agree with you about everything except this:

    Likes. Fuck Likes. The Like button is Facebook’s most enduring legacy, and one of the biggest blows to actual communication in today’s connected world. Why comment any more when you can just click “Like”? It means nothing, particularly when it’s connected to a sentence for which the verb “like” is completely inappropriate.

    A ‘Like’ serves a different communication function than a comment, a bit like an SMS serves a different communication function than a phone call. I think the two functions support each other beautifully, especially since you can now “Like’ each reply in a comment discussion. ‘Likes’ speed up the interactivity in comment discussions on facebook! (IMO)

    I love to get ‘likes’ for my comments – like jokes I make on people’s photos or in discussions in my favourite facebook interest group, for example, or on photos. For example, ‘likes’ of my jokes by my brother who lives on the other side of the planet shows me that he follows some of what I say and do, and still like my jokes! I like his comments too, but I know he won’t make many anyway. People only say something in public (like on Facebook) that is ‘cool’, so if they can’t think on anything cool to say (for a wider audience) then they’ll likely stay quiet if there is no like button. You’ll never know they read your joke and liked it and were reminded of you. Not everybody are writers.

    I think ‘Likes’ fit Facebook’s original purpose beautifully – to stay weakly in contact with Friends without initiating communication efforts, to make the communication more frequent. (That is really useful and create real social value, especially when you live far from family and friends)

    Reply
    1. Pete Davison Post author

      A good argument, thanks for sharing! I had forgotten about the ability to “like” comments and I sort of appreciate that, though I would still prefer that people use actual words to show their support of an idea, concept or opinion. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, though, I think. :)

      The trouble I find with Likes is that they are often not used in a logical way. Take the case of brand pages — when they ask a question to engage with the community, you’ll often see at least twice as many Likes as comments, even if Liking makes no sense in that context.

      Eh. I guess they’re not really hurting anyone. I still don’t like them though. :)

      Reply
      1. Mados

        Yes, I find likes usuful in the context of real, personal sharing and discussions, but not on brand pages… Actually brand pages seem pretty useless to me overall… it isn’t the ‘likes’ faults, it is the concept of impersonal ‘mass’ communication focused on number harvest, just like you describe in your post.

        Reply
      2. Mados

        What do you think of the ‘Like’ button on WordPress?

        You can disable it if you want.

        I find it very useful. I use it to show people that I have read and appreciate their post (although I love to write and discuss, I am not always up to it – and sometimes a post is so perfectly well formed in itself that there’s nothing to add).

        I love to get likes on my own posts as well… it makes me feel that at least not all the traffic is random missteps sidetracked in google searches for something else.

        Reply
        1. Pete Davison Post author

          Ironically, I actually have no issue with the “Like” button on WordPress because, as you say, you can disable it if you don’t like it, and it’s a good sign of people who have read your post but have nothing to add. Sometimes you write a blog and it’s not something specifically designed to provoke discussion — it’s in contrast to a status update or a post on a social network (key word social) in which the point (theoretically, anyway) is to get people talking.

          Through the Like button on WordPress, I’ve discovered a number of people who are reading my posts on here that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, which is actually quite nice. On Facebook, because my Likes are coming from people I already know, they seem to serve relatively little purpose — for me, anyway. Others may — and do — disagree. :)

          Reply
          1. Mados

            OK good point.

            Yes, the ‘discover people’ function of ‘Liking’ on WP is very useful. I have also discovered many blogs/people that way (and also via ‘Follow’).

            The next evolutionary step of the WP ‘Like’ button could be to be able to ‘Like’ each comment, just like on Facebook. I would really like that function on WP. ‘Likes’ on people’s comments would encourage them and also give a quick option to say “I read your reply, thank you’ without having to comment again. I feel an obligation to reply to every comment on my blog within a relatively short time frame, but sometimes I don’t know what to say. Not all comments naturally require a reply, but I would like to always show appreciation for the effort – ‘Like’ would do in those situations. No need to say anything if there’s nothing to add.

            Ps. Apologise for the astronomical amount of typos and grammatical mistakes in my long comment before… I’m glad you found it comprehensible. I wish I had checked it better. I’m lacking sleep. OK enough excuses. (maybe there’s even mistakes in this one too… can’t see any right now. I generally can’t until I push the button called ‘Post Comment’ which acts as a sort of moment-of-truth generator ;-).

            Reply
            1. Pete Davison Post author

              There are other commenting systems out there that provide functionality similar to what you describe. Things like IntenseDebate and Disqus provide the ability to “rate” comments, though I’m not sure there’s any way you can implement anything other than the default built-in WordPress system if your site is hosted on WordPress.com instead of being a self-hosted WordPress install on your own web space. But there are alternatives — and most of the time, assuming your community is large/well-adjusted enough, they don’t seem to be abused too much.

              Reply
              1. Mados

                I’m ‘connected’ on Disqus, IntenseDebate and various others comment platfroms I don’t remember their names but I’m automatically logged in while surfing and can ‘like’ various content that have these features installed. Which is great!. I can’t install them on my own blog because as you say, it is the wordpress.com platform and they don’t allow you to install non-wordpress.com stuff on the platform (for good technical reasons, I did get the explanation once and it is good – and it won’t be possible with the current system that allows a great number of people access to free hosting and free shared templates).

                Reply
  3. Mados

    I agree with the rest. I do everything I can to keep my facebook profile junk free. Facebook do provide a few handles to regulate that, but new intrusive weed keep popping up every now and again … I liked the new timeline layout initially, but now I find it messy. They seem to have lost control over the design a bit.

    I sorts of encourages you to make an online scrapbook of your life history that your friend can access, and I like that idea. However, I have seen what happens to people who do it… involuntarily spamming their friends’ and acquaintances news stream with 1970s baby photos, school photos and old achievements… They ended up apologising embarrassed frantically to everybody that they didn’t know that was going to happen!

    Re. being junk free, rule number is to never give any games/apps any permission to do anything and rule number two is to block every single lame little facebook game/app that ask you for permission to anything from ever showing up in your news stream again. Rule number three is to block every single person from your news stream who ever send your games requests.

    I adhere strictly to above rules and don’t have a single game with permission to access any of my data – I actually don’t understand why anyone would bother with all these lame games and quizzes. However, in your case that’s different, since you actually review games as hobby and/or work.

    Reply
    1. Pete Davison Post author

      I desperately need to clean out my Facebook account from all the crap I have from reviews. The other awful thing about them is that FB’s interface has no means of “batch removing” games, apps and other stuff, meaning you have to painstakingly go through and get rid of them one at a time. It’s not fun!

      Reply
    1. Pete Davison Post author

      I like it a lot more than Facebook, though I confess I haven’t been spending as much time there recently. It’s a lovely interface, though, and a lot easier to filter and search. The fact that they put the few games they have on a completely separate feed was a brilliant idea from a usability perspective. Game makers have been complaining about it, but I’ll take usability over some leeching social game company’s viral promotion strategy any day. :)

      Reply
  4. slapshot82

    I need to clean the crap out of my Facebook page, but I just never feel like it.

    Truth be told, I care very little about Facebook anymore. Once, it was nice to keep up with friends with, but now it’s just a spam overload.

    Reply

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