Thursday, April 21, 2011

Facebook

I've blogged about this before, but this time I have a new perspective. I joined Facebook in October 2006, not quite a full month after it was opened to the public. Prior to that, you had to have a .edu e-mail address in order to sign up. At that time, MySpace was the king of social web sites. Nobody was on Facebook outside of college students, faculty and a handful of other institution folks. Facebook was lagging behind sites like Xanga and others as well. Many of which are now long gone.

The Facebook design was incredibly spartan by comparison with today's version. There were no games, or much in the way of ads (none that I can recall). Notifications were almost non-existent. I loved it. To me, MySpace looked like a puke party. The results of eating Chili, washing it down with a mix of Jaegermeister and a purple passion fruit slurry, and then barfing all over the screen. I hated MySpace's layout, concept and design. Horrifically disorganized and difficult to navigate. Kids loved it. Adults winced in pain of just looking at it.

I thought Facebook, by contrast, had done it right. A clean design. Simple navigation. In short, MySpace was built for elementary school kids, while Facebook was built for grown-ups.

The problem, for me, however was that from October 2006 to December 2007, I couldn't convince ANYONE I knew to sign up. Family, friends, coworkers, no one. All I heard was either "I'm on MySpace, why do I need Facebook?", or "social web sites are dumb!". Looking back now, every single one of those folks, about two dozen actually, are now on Facebook, with the exception of three who never used any social web site anyway. (They still say "social web sites are dumb!")

Anyhow, back to 2007: after months of not having a real social network of people to interact with, in December of that year I closed my account and walked away from it.

Then came Spring of 2008. At some point Zuck and his team decided to add games, ads and survey polls to their site. Within a few months, and within a short window of time, almost half of those same people I'd asked and given up on were now signed up. Not only that, but they were now psyched and pumped about it and were bugging me to join as well. I was stunned. None of them seemed to have remembered me asking them to sign up only a few months prior. Whatever.

So I rejoined.

From 2008 to 2010 I watched as new features were added, existing features were changed and how everyone interacted with each other. I was actually starting to see the value and enjoyment of it. Finally, people of my generation were communicating, catching up, and sharing experiences. But like all things, they rise and they fall. It seems to me that the interaction volume level peaked sometime in mid-late 2010. Since then, it has all fallen off dramatically.

Now, in Spring of 2011, what I see most are reposts of news, quotes, sayings, verses, video clips, game invites and game stats, and quiz results.
What happened? I have a theory.

First, many of the interactions involved personal and political debates which soured many relationships. Even if not outright ended some, it often put the brakes on, quieting discussion threads overall.

A major problem that has daunted many new users is the flat terrain. Facebook has tools for segregating your friends into groups, but no matter what you do, it is still often an awkward experience to have an "open" discussion with so many different demographics watching your thoughts unfold. You family, your kids, your boss, your buddies, your business associates, and so on. That often leads to one of two artificial habits:

- clamming up
- refusing to friend certain people

In short: anti-social behavior creeps in.

Then there's the games and chat. Many users logon only to catch up on Farmville, Mafia Wars or whatever the hot game happens to be, but they really don't concern themselves with discussion efforts. Many users simply turn off chat so they don't get interrupted during their games as well.

In addition, more and more businesses, celebrities and even government entities are now leaning more heavily on Facebook as a communications medium. Their increased output has diltued the news feed dramatically, making it less of a personal interaction, and more of a spectator experience.

All of this combined has led to fewer posts of truly personal experiences. It's becoming less social and more passive. Gradually, but noticably.

I've been debating how long I will try to keep up hope that it will again take a turn towards the interesting side, and make the effort worth it. I don't see much hope. Facebook is well within the tractor beam of monetization and corporate pressure. Once they IPO it's over. That will mark the rise of the shareholder: Bye-bye flexibility and risk-taking.

This October will mark 5 years for me. I'm not sure I can make it that long. Every day I consider pushing the buttob to close my account. Any day now.

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