web 2.0

I’ve just never gotten along with Facebook.Failbook

The start of the rocky relationship began 3 months ago, when I was pushed into creating an account just because everybody else was doing it, and because everybody else thought it would be a good way to showcase my T-shirts.

Right from the start, Facebook decided that its UI didn’t want to work the same as other website’s UIs. It presented ridiculous choices for the type of my “fan page”. Is it an “online store”? “Products”? Can’t I just enter in “T-shirts”? It didn’t even call them “fan pages”, even though they have a button that says “become a fan”, and they term their members “fans”. It called it “create a page for my business”.

I fought Facebook and eventually managed to create my personal page and fan page. Except I couldn’t find them. You’d think there’d be a list of all the pages I’ve created, so I could click on which one I wanted to post on. Except I couldn’t find that anywhere. I couldn’t even find anything that said “pages”. I went searching for a little “help” link. I eventually found it, but Facebook’s lackluster help section didn’t help me at all.

So I resorted to Google. It said that I should have a little “f” icon on the little taskbar Facebook gave me. (The sheer ridiculousness of using a “taskbar” inside a browser on a website made me laugh and cry at the same time.) Except Facebook decided that I shouldn’t have a little “f” icon. So I gave up, and eventually “deactivated” my account in frustration. (Apparently Facebook is kind of like the Hotel California – you can’t leave, only “deactivate”.) I told Facebook their UI sucks as my reason for deactivating. They said they’d look into my complaint, but they never did.

About a week later I decided to see if I could have a better relationship with Facebook. So I reactivated my account. I eventually found I could access my pages by clicking on the little “Create an Ad” link. Oh, how intuitive – you want to get me to buy an ad before I can even do anything!

Then Facebook decided I needed to have an identity crisis. I didn’t know which identity (personal or business) I was posting as when I posted something on one of my pages. It didn’t make any sense – shouldn’t I be able to choose which identity to post as? Apparently Facebook didn’t want to let me!

All the while, I was constantly encountering bugs and inconsistent UI behavior. Sometimes something would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t. Deleting my profile picture didn’t mean “delete” – it just meant it got saved in an album somewhere else, and I had to go delete them there. To “like” something, sometimes I had to hit the button twice. Sometimes it wouldn’t upload pictures properly. Sometimes it would just crash. It was also slow. It reminded me of Windows 95 running on a 486 with 4 megabytes of RAM.

Eventually, Facebook crashed big time. It locked up my browser tab, and I couldn’t log out. I closed the Facebook tab, and I couldn’t log back in again. I waited awhile, and it let me log in, but it gave me a “page not found” error. What the… ? All my work setting up this thing was lost for nothing!

I heard reports of pages disappearing and reappearing before, so I Googled the problem. I figured out you might be able to get it to work by using https:// instead of http:// in the URL. So I did, and it worked. However, this meant that for every internal Facebook link I clicked on, I had to copy and paste the URL, and put that little “s” in, because Facebook links are http://. Annoying. Can’t they code this thing right? Why would anyone want to use Facebook if it didn’t work half the time?

Still, I continued to use it, because I thought I could make it work. Shortly afterward, Facebook decided that it wanted to make my personal posts more private public, and forced its new privacy policy on me. I knew before that Facebook’s privacy policies weren’t very good, and I never felt comfortable sharing information on the Internet without knowing who exactly would be able to see it. So, for awhile, I just didn’t log on.

I eventually decided to fix my privacy settings in Facebook’s labyrinthine inner workings, and continued using it despite that. Then Facebook decided that it didn’t look good enough, so it changed the way it looked. Except the new look, though different, wasn’t any better. It was still hard to find things, still confusing to use, still lacking rhyme or reason to its UI.

And then there were the things people posted. I wasn’t interested in the minute details of everyone’s life. I wasn’t interested in gossip. It bored me real fast. It felt so juvenile, like high school all over again. Sure, it’s nice to know what people are up to, but you don’t have to give me every single detail! I was just drowning in all the noise. There was barely any signal, just noise. It made it hard to reply to other people’s posts, and hard to get replies on my own, defeating the purpose of “social networking”. I was spending too much time just trying to find the signal, all while trying to fight the site’s poor interface.

During my constant frustration, not to mention waste of time, I started thinking to myself, “Why am I using this thing?” “Why am I wasting my time on this site?” I asked myself that, and I reminded myself that I started using Facebook “because everybody else wanted me to use it”. I never liked doing things just because they’re “cool”. I like doing things because I like doing things.

So I decided I needed to de-friend Facebook. I logged out one last time a few days ago. I’ll see if I feel like returning in a month or so. Sure, it’s cool to be friends with the cool kid, but the relationship is shallow and it only makes you feel bad in the end. I’d rather be friends with somebody whose company I truly enjoy – wouldn’t you? It’s interesting what comes up as the first result in Google if you do a search for “why I quit”. It’s not smoking, it’s not dope, it’s… well, do it and find out!

Oh, and the fact that yesterday, Facebook was granted a patent for the news feed doesn’t make me like Facebook either. We’ve had “news feeds” since Lincoln used telegraph office in the war department to keep track of the war effort. You can’t tell me the news feed is really anything new right now.

I don’t care if Facebook is cool or not. I wish another social network would come along and kill Facebook. I hate Facebook. There, I said it. That made me feel better.

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225 Social Networks screenshot

225 channels and nothing’s on?

Short answer: Two. We only need one standardized method per communication medium that does the job right – just like with face-to-face contact, phone, email, etc.

The long answer: Social networking is not a novel concept. It has existed since the dawn of humanity. Since then, we’ve had inventions – like the written word and letters, telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, and email. In the past decade, hundreds of “social networking” sites have appeared. Recently, I’ve been getting burned out using them, and that has got me thinking “why are there so many?” Part of the reason they’re referred to as a time sink by so many people is because there are too many. Google Buzz just added itself last week – do we really need another social network?

Those of us that grew up in the 80s know of a time when there was no Internet. If you wanted to talk to someone remotely, you got their phone number and called them. You didn’t have to have the same phone or the same phone company as them to talk to them, you just dialed their number. Think about that for a minute – isn’t that incredible? You didn’t have to have AT&T to talk to somebody on Sprint, you just dialed a number, and talked. The system didn’t care what network you used, or what model of phone you used. You could use one of those fancy office phones to call somebody using a simple touch tone phone, and it’d work just as well.

When the Internet became commonplace, everybody had email. Just like the phone, you simply typed the person’s email address and your message and hit “Send” – off it went. It didn’t matter if they used a different ISP or email program. I still remember how neat it was to see a message arrive in somebody’s inbox in a different part of the world, nearly instantly.

Now, we have the so-called Web 2.0 “social networking” websites. There’s over 200 of them! And on each one, you can pretty much only talk to other people on the same network. They all work in different ways, each serving as their own “walled garden” where you can only talk to other people in the same network. This leads to a lot of repetition of information.

What’s more, each of these social networking sites has their own rules and etiquette – for each site you have to remember what the rules are and how they work. Because you have to spend so much time on these sites to actually communicate, very little of that gets done – I often feel like social networking is just a bunch of people shouting at each other on a street corner, rather than a group of people having a discussion in a coffee shop. It can be hard to get a reply to what you’re saying, which just creates frustration and noise, and makes “social networking” feel more like “social notworking”. It makes me long for the “social networking” of the Web 1.0 era that worked perfectly well – like forums and bulletin boards and chat rooms. People actually listened on those (although I must admit I never really cared for chat rooms).

Touch Tone Phone Keypad

If only it was this simple…

It’s interesting how social networking has evolved in my lifetime. Over the years we’ve gone from:
1985: “What’s your phone number? I’ll call you”.
1998: “What’s your email? I’ll email you.”
2010: “Do you have a Facebook? Do you have a Twitter? Do you have a Flickr? Do you have a MySpace?”

How many ways do we need to contact someone? I really wish the open source community would get together and make a single social networking protocol. It could be accessed using an appropriate client, like how a web browser acts as an HTTP client for websites, or how an email program acts as an SMTP/POP3 client for sending/receiving email. The Internet would not be what it is today without these standards. Social networking now is like if Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but somebody else made another phone that worked differently, and another person made another one… you get the story. The phone would’ve never taken off as mode of communication if it wasn’t standardized. Imagine how the phone would work today, using the models the social networks use right now:

Twitter: You can only make a phone call that’s up to 1 minute long. If you want to reference someone, you might have to use an abbreviation for their name because speaking it would take too long. To call someone, you’d have to find out their phone number and add them to your followers list. The phone would have a “retweet” button that would allow you to share the call with a third party.

Facebook: This phone would allow you to send pictures as well as text. It would also come with little games you could play with other people if you called them, or if they called you. You could only call someone if you added them as a friend first in your phone. If you wanted to reach a business, you would have to go there first and tell the owner that you were a fan, and then you could add them as a contact in your phone. There would be no yellow pages, only a generic search for an exact business name, so unless you knew the name of the business you wouldn’t know they existed, let alone their location or what kind of business they are, unless one of your friends told you first. The phone would have “like” and “share” buttons instead of the # and * buttons.

Feel free to add your own analogy to the comments section!

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