The Ever-Changing Facebook

The only thing constant in this world is change or so goes the maxim. As recent events would indicate, there is no more ardent a follower of this maxim than Mr. Zuckerberg and his baby, Facebook. Beginning sometime in September of this year, Facebook has inundated its users with a deluge of changes, most of which are as welcome as cockroaches in your kitchen. Infact, I’ve yet to come across a single user who has had one good complimentary thing to say about them. Be it bloggers or journalists or my friends, they’re all equally resistant to these constant amendments. Zuckerberg’s mantra is that people ought to share more and more with their friends. As he himself says, “The amount of information people share online is increasing on an exponential curve, like a social version of Moore’s Law.” (Newman 2011)

Keeping in line with this mantra, Facebook has, in the past couple of months or so, introduced the News ticker which provides you second to second update about each and every activity of each and everyone of your friends, irrespective of your need to know. Infact, the ticker effectively makes a mockery of the concept of privacy. Every link or page you like, every conversation you’ve, every comment you make, every article you read, every song you listen to, there’s nothing that’s not in the public domain. Whether you like it or not, all your friends absolutely have to know every activity you indulge in. My question is: what if there’s a comment I wish to leave on a friend’s post that has nothing to do with our non-mutual friends or something I like that I don’t wish to advertise? Is Facebook telling me that the only way I can have a private conversation is through its messaging service?

Oh yeah, the messaging service. Ever since the incessant changes began, Facebook’s messenger has increasingly become a sham. Your friends can often be online but you can’t see them. They can be messaging you but you won’t be receiving their messages. Infact, you’re often subjected to a default message from Facebook: “Facebook chat is experiencing technical difficulties.” I suppose I’m glad that atleast they realize it. Then there’s the obscure “Other” folder. Introduced in November, 2010 as part of their “Social Inbox” feature, its aim is to filter friends’ messages from those of strangers’. However, in typical Facebook fashion, it’s users weren’t even made aware of its existence. Infact, in an article I happened to come along on www.slate.com, Elizabeth Weingarten elucidates how she suffered at the hands of Facebook’s vagaries when she forgot her laptop in a New York City cab. (Weingarten 2011) The gentleman who found her laptop had sent her 4 messages regarding her laptop but because the poor lady didn’t know of the existence of the aforementioned folder, she missed those very important messages and ended up buying a new laptop. For those of you interested in the article, the link is provided as a footnote below.

My biggest gripe at present is my friends’ list. I know for a fact that as of this moment I’ve a total of 221 friends. Yet for reasons known only to Facebook the total number of friends is always exactly one less than my actual number of friends. Infact a couple of days ago there were the number was 2 less friends which then rectified to the actual number of friends and is now back to being one less. And yet when I navigate through my friends’ list I happen to see all of them there. Where does the discrepancy arise from then? I guess it’s futile to question Facebook about it. Also, since the changes have begun there’s often a definite delay as to when we receive notifications. A friend could like my post right now but I won’t know about it till later, sometimes for as long as an hour. Delays also often occur while updating your status. I’ve faced numerous instances of updating my status but it not being visible either on my profile or on the news feed or both until hours later. Quite a few of my friends have experienced it too.

And it’s even more pronounced with Facebook’s new feature, Timeline. Introduced in September, Zuckerberg described it as “the new Facebook feature as all your stories, all your apps and a new way to express who you are.” (Gayomali 2011) Initially introduced as an optional feature, it’s now been officially introduced to all Facebook users beginning 15th December, 2011. We can switch over to it right away or wait for some sort of an announcement to appear on our profile some time soon. One can also refuse to switch to Timeline until it’s inevitably and automatically done by Facebook with you having little say in the matter. If upgraded to now, one is given a 7 day window within which to preview the new format and make any necessary changes, including tweaking your privacy settings if need be.

This is how Facebook describes it in its blog: “When you upgrade to timeline, you’ll have seven days to review everything that appears on your timeline before anyone else can see it. You can also choose to publish your timeline at any time during the review period. If you decide to wait, your timeline will go live automatically after seven days. Your new timeline will replace your profile, but all your stories and photos will still be there. If you want to see how your timeline appears to other people, click the gear menu at the top of your timeline, and select “View As.” You can choose to see how your timeline appears to a specific friend or the public.” (Aamoth 2011)

While timeline intends to be cooler and easier to navigate through, the intial reviews have been exactly the opposite. Two of my friends who had switched over to it right at its inception in September, have variously termed it as “another over-hyped Facebook feature” or complained about the fact that navigation is actually tougher now than before. How ironic considering Facebook’s apparent intention is the exact opposite. As stated above, there are problems with status updates often being delayed as well. I only switched over to it yesterday and contrary to Facebook’s expectation, I’m hardly impressed with it. I’m yet to figure out what the big deal about it is and as to what was wrong with the earlier beta version to necessitate such a massive change. And what’s more I’ve already faced a problem with a status update within just 24 hours of switching over. I posted a BBC news item and while it’s visible on the news feed and also as part of the recent activity log, but I’m yet to see it on my Timeline. Of course, it could be some perverse Facebook logic that prevents such updates from appearing on your Timeline. As we well know by now, anything is possible with Facebook.

At the end of the day, while changes are a good thing, changing something that seems to work absolutely fine can often be a putting off experience. All these constant changes and the attendant navigation and functional problems associated with them can actually turn even the most ardent addicts away. Already there are enough reports of decreased Facebook usage because most people seemed to have reached a saturation point. Does Mark Zuckerberg really wish to lose them all? Yes, we all have established networks on Facebook and are reluctant not only to switch over to new social networks but also to completely stop using Facebook. But as we well know taking your users and their interests for granted is often a dangerous and self-defeating business strategy. Does Zuckerberg really want to risk it all?

References

  • Aamoth, D. Facebook Makes New ‘Timeline’ Design Available to Everyone. Dec 15, 2011. http://techland.time.com/2011/12/15/facebook-makes-new-timeline-design-available-to-everyone/ (accessed Dec 16, 2011).
  • Gayomali, C. Facebook Introduces ‘Timeline’: The ‘Story’ of Your Life. Sep 22, 2011. http://techland.time.com/2011/09/22/facebook-introduces-timeline-the-story-of-your-life/ (accessed Dec 16, 2011).
  • Ho, E. Screenshot Tour of Facebook’s New ‘Timeline’ Interface. Sep 23, 2011. http://techland.time.com/2011/09/23/screenshot-tour-of-facebooks-new-timeline-interface/ (accessed Dec 16, 2011).
  • Newman, J. Reveal More, Consume More: Facebook’s Big Changes. Sep 22, 2011. http://techland.time.com/2011/09/22/reveal-more-consume-more-facebooks-big-changes/ (accessed Dec 16, 2011).
  • Wagstaff, K. Are You Ready for Facebook Timeline? Nov 18, 2011. http://techland.time.com/2011/11/18/are-you-ready-for-facebook-timeline/ (accessed Dec 16, 2011).
  • Weingarten, E. Furious at Facebook Again! Dec 9, 2011. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/12/facebook_s_other_messages_mail_you_are_probably_missing.html (accessed Dec 13, 2011).