Thursday, August 04, 2011

Facebook Killed Loyalty To Itself As Side-Effect Of Its Succesful Design

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBaseSo I am looking at Google+ surprisingly fast adoption rate, 25 Million or so users in the first month, which, by the way, is more people than a mid-size European country. Out of nothing. Try to picture 25 million people and you get an idea why you keep being put in circles by people you have never ever heard of.

Of course, many of these users are early adopters so they also must have been on facebook, or are on facebook; looking at my own circles I would say there is a tremendous overlap. But I am not seeing intense angsty posts about abandoning platforms and what to use, posts I am used to seeing in blogging communities when people felt or feel they needed to switch platforms. Somehow I am not seeing a deep seated attachment to facebook, no sense of partisanship or loyalty, just people comparing merits and deciding to maintain a presence on both sites or walking away from facebook or googlepoz. Contrasting this with the heartbreak I used to see on LiveJournal when people announced they would now use Dreamwidth, or Wordpress or Blogger, I was struck by the thought that facebook's main strength is also why people have an easy time to leave it: facebook teaches you not to care about what you put on facebook.

Facebook is very strong in getting people to create content and share it because its User Interface communicates to people that content should be and is fun, simple, and nothing to worry about. The entry box is small to make you stick to short quips, a lot of the content is auto-generated from the things you do, formatting is completely out of your hands and standardized so there is no sense of pride to be had there either—it's really not the computer equivalent of scrapbooking.

Then the facebook page tells you your content has no lasting value: it just simply scrolls off the page, and there is no facility to get a historical overview of yourself. Every blogging system allows you to read your content like a book, able to pick times and events and reminisce, read back, remember, and feel you have created an archive of you. Facebook allows no such thing: you can barely go back to what you did last week, never mind take a look at how things were two years ago. Remember when you broke your leg? Your announcement of your child? When you flipped the engagement menu switch? You'd better remember it yourself, because facebook will barely, if at all, let you find it back. Even the photos, the content facebook archives for you, is put into albums that are actually not easy to manage if they get too big. Facebook basically tells you not to be too deep or thoughtful, not to get attached to what you write, and that what you upload will not be kept all that well.

Facebook is fun and simple because your content doesn't need to be sweated over and considered and thought about as if it was meant to last, but that also makes it really easy to walk away from and abandon it once the other thing to like about facebook, your friends, have migrated too. And there's another thing: the facebook friends are a double-edged sword as well. Light facebook users don't have that many friends to care about and complain they get too many status notifications as it is since they are not invested in facebook anyway, while heavy facebook users, in my opinion, have a really ambiguous relationship towards their list of facebook friends: too many hangers on and I-met-you-once people have been accumulated, it's too hard to manage who sees what of what you post, and the more social you are, the more trouble it becomes to keep up. I am seeing a lot of entries about people needing to do culls. Having to spend time to manage friends is only a turn-off, and the alternative is to post less so as to not say too much to people you barely know. Therefore it can be actually very liberating to walk away and start over, better, especially in a new place populated by hardcore early-adopters like you, that makes it simple to assign people to groups, even if the assignment system is flawed on some level as I discussed in my previous post.

I was reminded today that I once said that every social network is basically a party, and all parties end. Nobody wants a non-stop party. Facebook stayed a party, a hey hi how are you doing look at the flyer for the party next week no way she said that let me tell you another story kind of place, and never evolved into something else. It's unknown if the Circle system will let Googlepoz become something else than a wanna-be-facebook party, but I would recommend to Google, since it has the short-form content system down, now work on making Google+ a great archive as well to create that loyalty to your own content.

Meanwhile, facebook is said to be, again, 'in lockdown', which is a self-imposed period of intense coding to create new functionality. Which means the features will not be properly user-researched and -tested, but will just be what a bunch of now slightly older twenty-somethings think will keep their website relevant while not being able to predict how heavy users of social media, of which very many are one, two, all the way up to four or five decades older than these engineers, actually really want. You know, the same process that gave us version after version of fucked up privacy controls, and the huge game changer that was facebook Places, which, oh wait, was not a game changer because nobody uses it, and was designed so badly I managed to create an abortion clinic inside my place of work and check a friend into it publicly—a feat I would now link to if facebook had made it all easy to find things back.

I am not holding my breath, but I am easily amused.