I’ve come to the conclusion that Facebook isn’t as interesting or useful as it seemed. User experience went down the drain with user-created applications that usually are spamming engines for other little startups trying to bootstrap an audience (I guess they couldn’t start a viral buzz on their own merits). Still, I’m pretty sure FaceBook managed to keep their core audience: college students.
Facebook’s model or so-called “social graph” is fundamentally flawed as are any “social networks” (as in, if you’re spending more time in front of the computer to maintain your “network” then you don’t have one). Facebook of course is crippled in its own special way. Facebook’s mantra, like any suburban teenager, is “keeping it real”. They start by demanding your “real name” and ask that you only add “real friends”. Then they give you a crazy load of updates (compounded by said spammy application notices). It gets tedious after a while: Betty Jo just changed her profile pic (another self-shot that hides her huge belly while magnifying her breasts), Billy Bob is no longer in a relationship (because he slept with some other chick he poked on Facebook), someone just tagged you in a picture (the one of you throwing up on a pavement after binge drinking), Billy Bob and your recent ex-girlfriend are now friends (???) and so on.
This all works when you’re in college but sucks if you’re not!
Getting all these updates on all the little goings on really works for people in the same demographic, sharing the same physical space, and without any strong social commitments (family and/or work). An important part of student life is “staying in the loop” and Facebook does a great job of making that easier.
For people connected to others via work or online interactions, it’s not as exciting because all the little mini feeds and updates get as exciting as parsing server logs. Plus, when you’re not connecting with other students (people you know names and real locations of), protecting your privacy becomes a tricky issue as well. How much do you want to mix up your friends from outside work with people you’ve known before? How discoverable do you want to be? I’ll grant that FaceBook does a really nice job of managing privacy to such a fine grain but at then end of the day, if they can find you, they will.
In the end, the biggest draw about FaceBook is that it isn’t MySpace
FaceBook’s the only competitor with a fighting chance against MySpace. It’s kind of funny how bloggers talk about FB’s mythical multi-billion dollar valuation while ignoring the massive white elephant cruising about in the living room. Many of us are simply in collective denial that something like MySpace can even succeed in the 21st century, yet it’s several magnitudes larger than FB and probably more than it’ll ever be. FB gives us an escape and some hope that someone will finally dethrone MySpace.
Stuff that Sucks: The World is Flat
FB has the same problem as any other social network in that relationships are binary (friend or NOT friend) and have a flat hierarchy (though FB compartmentalizes them in “networks”). I don’t think any social network has managed to capture the fine nuances of social relationships and FB is no different. The kid you grew up gets access to the same information as some random chick you met at the last party who “friended” you.