Tipping Pitches: Technology: Facebook Has a Problem


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Technology: Facebook Has a Problem

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It's been a slow, evolutionary change, but Facebook has a problem.

Its users.

This is something I didn't notice overnight. It didn't happen as a result of the privacy changes (though, to be honest, they didn't help). It happened because the users of Facebook are now veterans, and they know the service too well.

There was a time when Facebook users still had their innocence. They were funny. Irreverent. Silly. Care-free. Friendly. Hilarious.

Then, slowly but surely, those qualities have eroded.

This is not a slap at my Facebook friends. It's not just you. It's me. It's the majority of users who use Facebook.

The people may still be interesting. But they are no longer interesting on Facebook.

Following are the types of users who have taken over the network:

1) Self-Promoters. I wanted to get this one out of the way first because I know that I'm part of the problem. Facebook was once about catching up with friends. Sharing stories. Hearing what others are doing. Quickly, professionals realized the power of the network to further their careers.

Promote, promote, promote.

Everyone has a link to promote. A product to sell. A blog they wrote (and, you bet, I'll promote this entry on Facebook). I don't mind getting a little bit of it, but when it becomes someone's entire persona on Facebook, they become less interesting.

If all you're going to do is promote stuff, use Twitter. You'll have a bigger audience there, too. I became your Facebook friend because I thought I'd get a glimpse into your life (or because I was too much of a chicken to reject you). I want to hear about what makes you human. What makes you interesting.

People lose what made them interesting on Facebook when they self-promote too much. I know I've become less interesting. And I wasn't that interesting to begin with. Trying to balance.

2) Politically Obsessive. Look, I get it. You care about politics. You have a passion. The current administration is going to bring an end to the America we know and eventually the world. Health care reform and taxes are bad. The last 10 links you posted during the past 10 days have reminded me of this.

Politics are sensitive, people. It's not like sports. You can root for the Cubs and I have no problem with your ranting. I hate the Cubs. I think you're dumb for liking the Cubs, but I don't take personal offense to your posts about that terrible team.

Politics are not like sports. You can very easily and inadvertently come off condescending to the opposition. And many (probably around half) of your friends are the opposition. You are talking down to half of the people who care about you. Just not good form.

Want to rant about politics? Go to a political message board and knock yourself out. I just don't think that Facebook is the place for it.

Granted, the people who write about opposing views bother me more than those who write about the stuff I agree with. Still. I'd completely understand why those I agree with would be very annoying to those who disagree with it.

This is why you need to use your privacy settings! Make a list called "Politics." Put your friends on it who you think will care about your political rantings. Probably those who give you a thumbs up or comment. When you post something political, use the list. Only they will see it. Spare the rest of us. Then I won't have to hide you.

3) Uninspiring Inspirational Quote...rs. The more inspirational quotes you quote, the less inspiring you become. After a while, it just gets annoying.

A little pick-me-up is good every now and then. But if you have to rely on someone else's words all the time, you become less interesting. I don't care what some other genius said. Just be yourself.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the overly religious folks. This is sensitive, I know. It's actually been eye-opening to see how religious some of my formerly crazy college friends are now. Nothing wrong with it. Religion is a big part of their lives.

I guess that's part of the good about Facebook. If you let it, Facebook can give your friends greater insight into your life that they never knew before. You're more than just a college drunk. You're deeper than that.

Still, if it gets to the point where everything you post is religious, it's similar to #1 and #2 above. Suddenly, it's making you look less interesting.

We have religious freedoms. Feel free to write what you want and I can ignore it. It just gets tiresome when all of your updates invoke God, you know? Nothing against the big guy. I'd just rather hear about you.

4) Self-Loathers. Back in my day, Facebook was a pretty positive place. Not annoyingly positive. Just a fun little party.

Now, it's becoming a pity party. I often feel the need to shower after visiting Facebook. So many negative posts. Everyone's angry about something. Everyone's life sucks. There are a lot of people who are, in a subtle or not-so-subtle way, reaching out for help.

I just wish you wouldn't do it publicly. All the time. Reach out to individual friends. They can help. Airing your dirty laundry only makes you look bad. And makes me feel dirty.

Why the Evolution?
I already talked about why Facebook has gotten more business-oriented. It did because it's a good place to get clicks. It's made Facebook a less interesting place as a result.

I also think that as the novelty has worn off, some of the interesting people have dropped out. Those who need Facebook and need the reassurance are still around. Granted, I'm still around.

I also think the privacy settings may have contributed, even if to a small extent (I don't want to over-blow this). Even if the privacy changes are no big deal, there was an uproar. And even if there's nothing to fear, many are fearful.

Facebook users just seem to be more careful about what they post now. Fewer funny party pictures from college. Fewer hilarious, irreverent jokes. Almost nothing profane. I sometimes like profane.

It may also have something to do with who we are friending on Facebook. It's no longer only our close friends. We are also Facebook friends with not-so-close friends, professional contacts, and our parents (or at least some of us are). You can use your privacy settings obsessively like I am. Or you can just become more careful about what you say. And less interesting.

It's almost like we're growing up. Becoming adults because the grown-ups are watching. Or realizing we're adults again. Facebook gave us something for a while that brought us back to our youth. Now we're re-reverting back to adulthood.

It's unfortunate because, in this way, Facebook is becoming more like Twitter. It's not becoming more like Twitter in the way that Twitter loyalists think. It's not about the news feed or the privacy settings.

It's about the personality. Twitter lacks personality. It lacks warmth. It lacks that sense of family and community that Facebook has always had.

Facebook is all grown up now, and it's becoming a colder place. It's more business-oriented. It's less personal. It's less funny. It isn't as interesting as it once was.

There are still interesting people on Facebook, but the interesting posts are becoming a minority. They are drowning in the sea of self-promotions, political rants, inspirational quotes and pity parties.

And it really has very little to do with anything that Facebook is doing. It's all about the users.


Jenn Sutherland on February 09, 2010 said...

Jon, you are on FIRE this week. This post is brilliant. And I posted it on FB. :) So true about FB becoming a duller place - and I'm part of the problem too, with my own blog promo, though I do post other things I find interesting on the web. Twitter and FB definitely have different purposes for me - FB still has the ambient intimacy of people I know, or kind-of know, while I use Twitter more for business networking, incubating bitty ideas and posting articles I find along the way.

I think I'm definitely getting more out of Twitter now than FB, and as well as networking, it's supplanting my RSS a little bit.

Jon Loomer on February 09, 2010 said...

Thanks, Jenn! Also probably not a coincidence is that Facebook has gradually become less interesting to me as I've become more committed to Twitter. I still prefer Facebook, but Twitter has sapped my Facebook personality. I post less on Facebook and I probably carry over my Twitter persona to Facebook more than I'd like. Part of what you get out of Facebook is what you put into it, and I've admittedly put less into it during the past few months.

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