This is not a story about how Facebook makes me painfully aware of my inability to control myself. One out of every fifty people on the planet uses Facebook and most users belong to Facebook. I can truthfully say that I’m not addicted to Facebook, and I’m proud of that.
In high school, online social networking was an easy way to quickly gain new contacts. We didn’t go crazy with it, but it was just cool to have an online profile. It was slightly amusing to those of us who had been building websites, but we hopped on the bandwagon anyway. MySpace was the most popular social networking website but Facebook was the friendly new kid on the block. It felt good to be part of something new, something exclusive. As our ambitions grew, Facebook grew with us. Unlike MySpace, Facebook had a simple and consistent user interface. Unlike MySpace, Facebook takes care of most page design and presentation. Unlike MySpace, Facebook was open not to the world but only to students. In short, Facebook was everything MySpace was not, and we identified with it.
As version after version of Facebook rolled into existence and new features were added, it quickly became clear that Facebook’s signature lack of customizability was also its greatest strength. Fewer design concerns meant better focus on content. Less variety of page components meant the ability to quickly find things on anyone’s profile. And a simple email notification system kept everyone up-to-date on what friends were doing.
As a developer for the Facebook platform, I was one of the first to see the current iteration of Facebook. I’d designed widgets before and I was satisfied with the minimal API, but the new one threw the doors wide open to all sorts of possibilities. During its initial offering meeting in May 2007, the new API attracted shiploads of engineers looking to leverage the Facebook platform. As a result, Facebook is now filled with widget choices and rivals even MySpace in customizability. Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t been added is the option to change the page theme at either the account level or the profile level. My guess is that it’d happen eventually, and even the diehard Facebook fans of old would grandfather the changes.
Facebook is now its very antithesis. The simplicity that had been so attractive earlier has been replaced with an overwhelming number of different configurations. I had joined Facebook with the hope of being able to focus on content without being distracted by presentation. The new Facebook platform completely violated the fading tradition of usability.
I Have Hundreds of Unread Messages…
… and I am not going to read them all. Most of these messages are from groups and events to which I had been invited but not not had time to examine yet. The quirky thing about Facebook is that by default, one can be spammed purely by virtue of being invited to an event. Updates are important when it comes to time-sensitive arrangements, but they’re irrelevant when one does not have an interest in the said arrangements. It is silly to assume acceptance without explicit rejection, and I don’t want to disable notifications altogether for the groups and events that I do care about. I have not had the time or patience to wade through the complicated interface to find the option if it exists at all.
There, I said it: Facebook is neither simple nor complex; it is complicated. And if I had to summarize my relationship with Facebook using one word, that’s what it would be.
I’m not gratuitously bashing Facebook; I’m just mildly upset about the way Facebook has been developing recently. And why would anyone else care? I’m just a little-known writer in the middle of nowhere as far as the Internet is concerned. All I want is a medium through which I could express myself without the stress and distraction of presentation. WordPress is exactly that. Its control panel is pure simplicity and its widget interface is powerful but unobstrusive. As the date of my graduation draws near, I occasionally entertain the notion of dropping my Facebook account. After all, bloggers network too… through their websites. It appears that while Facebook, MySpace, and the like appeal more to teenagers, true Web publishing is for the grown-ups. In a way, typing out this essay does make me feel slightly more grown up than prowling through my Facebook friend list and trading juicy snippets on people’s walls.
This does not mean I’m going to stop using Facebook. To me, it’d be useful as long as most of my friends still use it to exchange information. However, I will be maintaining a more traditionalist perspective when it comes to customization. SuperPoke me, but I’m not going to install the application just to SuperPoke you back. I’ll think about it, though.