The Downward Spiral of Facebook

The glorious college days

Facebook used to be great. I signed up for an account during the second half of my 2003/04 freshman year during college and at that time, it was really new just starting to spread. Because of my strong interest in web development and technology, I’m of course always trying to follow the latest trends. At that point the site was only open to college students and alumni, if I remember correctly, and it was so nice to see a social networking site that didn’t look like a virtual ghetto. I absolutely detest MySpace and have never created an account there. Browsing that site is just like asking for a virus or spyware – not to mention the awful background images that people put up that make pages impossible to read along with the animated .gifs and of course, don’t forget the blasting music that you’d really rather not listen to.

Facebook caught fire quickly on college campuses and it made connecting with, or finding people, incredibly easy. Not only could you add all your courses to your profile but you could also break it down further by adding your section/recitation. Asking someone for help or setting up a study group for the next exam was the best thing I had seen on the internet in a long time. The greatest part was that tons of people starting signing up, filling out profiles, and adding classes, not just the technically enlightened.

Stop dumbing the site down!

Over the years it has come to my attention that many features have been stripped out from Facebook and it just seems like the interface and functionality, in general, are being dumbed down; to me this is bad. Take the search function for example. Remember how you used to be able to do an advanced search with really specific information? Have you been to the search page lately? For a long time, you could get to it by doing a regular search fist but that no longer seems to be possible. Advanced search is just gone and has been basically replaced by one simple search box that might make it more difficult to search for specific people, pages, or groups.

Another newer thing that I find frustrating is groups vs. pages. The site started with groups and it’s an easy-to-understand functionality. Since they introduced pages though, there seems to be an overlapping mixture of confusion. It’s not that I really prefer one to the other; I just have a problem with them keeping both. If they want to push pages, then force all the groups to convert. Currently, I’d take a guess that users don’t know which to create or which to join. When they first introduced pages, I think they actually would convert them for you but this is no longer an option.

Did you hear about Facebook lite yet? If you really want to see a dumbed down version of the site you have to check that out. While I really like the fact that there are no third-party applications and there are less resource intensive scripts being used, it just feels too simple to be satisfying; a step in a better direction but it looks like it’s been built for senior citizens. Apparently Facebook Lite is targeted at dial-up internet users.

Poorly implemented third-party apps that might be invasive data mining scripts?

Think of it this way: Facebook is a data miner’s wet dream. Millions of people have accounts and come back to the site on a regular basis. They fill in all of their personal information, what kind of movies, books, music, etc. they enjoy, lifestyle preferences and opinions and just about everything you could think of. While third-party applications might be successful with things like the iPhone, on Facebook they’re awful; most are poorly rated and privacy is a huge issue.

Not only are the apps dumb and annoying but what’s worse is that people will request that you install them. If the quality remains the same and the privacy policy isn’t enforced well, I never plan on installing any third-party apps. You might think I’m a touch on the paranoid side but people who are really concerned with privacy don’t have any social networking accounts, period. Here’s what Facebook’s current privacy policy states:

“In addition, third party developers who have created and operate Platform Applications (“Platform Developers”), may also have access to your personal information (excluding your contact information) if you permit Platform Applications to access your data. Before allowing any Platform Developer to make any Platform Application available to you, Facebook requires the Platform Developer to enter into an agreement which, among other things, requires them to respect your privacy settings and strictly limits their collection, use, and storage of your information.”

While third party developers have to agree with this, who knows what’s really going on. Think about it. Any company can hire a developer to create a stupid little app that could grab your information. Even more, living in the US means that data can be sold. It’s a matter of trust and frankly, I don’t have any faith.

Even if I was interested in installing one or two, the usability on the application directory list is terrible. You can’t sort them by rating, only by popularity, recently added, and verified (very few). The browsing area is also very small and not many are listed per page.

Update – I’ve been slowly adding to this article for the past couple of weeks and it looks like Canada is pushing Facebook to change the privacy terms for application developers. Still though, I think the data mining potential is a bit frightening.

WHY COMPETE WITH TWITTER?!

I’m not going to try to hold back at all on this – I hate Twitter! To me, Twitter it just newfangled stupidity. I like to think of it like this: it’s blogging without really having anything to say or just RSS feeds for idiots. Twitter might be a popular term that’s thrown around by celebrities or the news media but according to recent statistics, it’s really not as popular as some would like to think – it’s apparently used more by older people and a lot of it is just pointless babble. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that most are drone accounts, marketers, or just sites spitting out links to stories feeding the people that don’t get how to use RSS feeds

I think a read a theory somewhere about the traditional news media pushing Twitter so that they can keep up with the internet and bloggers. With all the mentions in the media, I guess there might be some truth to that. Even my grandmother has heard about Twitter and she doesn’t even have a computer, let alone use the internet.

BUT WHY? Why does it seem like Facebook is trying to compete with Twitter in the first place? In my mind, they’re totally different in terms of what they offer. Facebook has the status update and in my opinion, that’s enough when it comes to trying to replicate Twitter functionality. Frankly, I just don’t understand Zuckerberg’s logic here. There’s just not enough in common between the two sites in order for them to compete.

There isn’t a good or popular alternative

What really shocks me is that there really isn’t a good or at least semi-popular alternative to Facebook at this point. There are a few sites that are popular in other countries but nothing that’s really huge in the US. In my opinion, the biggest potential competitor is Google. Sure, they’ve got Orkut but that’s big in Brazil and India. So many people have Google/Gmail accounts that with some blending with their newer Friend Connect service, I could really see them creating something great. Yahoo tried to start a social networking site called “Mash” but they failed. Microsoft could have been another huge player but they paid for a small ownership share of Facebook. The greatest thing about the internet though, is that anything can just pop out of nowhere. Silicon Valley certainly isn’t what it used to be but a group of people in a dormitory or a small start-up could come up with something better.

Before Facebook I hadn’t even considered signing up for a social networking site. I guess I just didn’t really see the point. Zucherberg’s site change everything and now it seems like everyone has an account. However, in my opinion the majority of the newer user base completely missed the best of times on the site. If Facebook continues down the path it has been on for the last couple of years, I think it’s only a matter of time before some big players move in and try to take a slice; and I think they will succeed.