Facebook sprinting away from themselves is the best move they can make

DECEMBER 3RD, 2016 — POST 327

Facebook is bad. At the very least, the app known internally as “the big blue app” (facebook.com on desktop) is unequivocally one of the worst experiences in all of popular technology. Facebook — the company that owns Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Oculus — is generally considered orders of magnitude less bad than its flagship app. However, official responses to the fake news issue in the wake of the election has had a few wondering if the company as a whole might be just as lame as ol’ Big Blue. Compound this with the coopting of features from hype beast social network Snapchat — first ephemerality and Stories into Instagram, then instant video into Messenger — and the company’s image has recently soured substantially. With every passing news story charting the corrosion of Facebook’s brand image, I can’t help myself wondering: Why are we still using these services?

I’m talking specifically about Big Blue, and the apps that spring off of that central account — Messenger, Groups, Pages, and Events. And I know the answer why we all still use these services: because we all still use these services. The one thing that holds me to the social network is Groups and to a lesser extent Messenger — the former where I can look for work, the latter where I can contact almost anyone. Unfortunately given how woeful an experience Big Blue is, Facebook were right-place-right-time and no other network loops in a sizeable a chunk of the global population. But this chunk is also the biggest reason why Big Blue is so bad. Clichés of racist uncles, ugly baby pictures, and shitposted memes run as endless as the News Feed itself. Facebook’s sole virtue is also the very thing that cripples their flagship app from being in any way useful.

The latest feature Facebook is looking to pinch from Snapchat for Big Blue is Discover — a curated selection of news sources that are rumoured to be falling under a upcoming ‘Collections’ pane inside the app. Most interesting to me is how fundamentally different this feature is to that which Facebook has already borrowed from Snapchat. Whilst Stories and instant video largely privilege interaction between single users (and their implementation within Instagram and Messenger ought to bolster this suggestion), a clone of Discover does something else: it ignores the interests of any individual user. If we were all waiting for Facebook to just embrace itself as a disseminator of information (read: a company with responsibilities similar to that of a media company), ‘Collections’ might be that very admission.

For a company who’s name is inextricable from an idea of personal identity, Facebook might be transitioning Big Blue away from the dreaded curse of other people. The faces of others have increasingly become condensed into a hive-mind of comment threads and brutally bundled up into a monumental Like/Share count that forces an individual post onto a News Feed. Big Blue hasn’t been about another person, another identifiable face for years, rather has become a bastion for the faceless mass. Something like ‘Collections’ — news sources that are presumably personally curated, hand-picked so as to inspire trust in their authority — seems to be the move to mute the influence of mass personhood from Big Blue (and could also be a positive step toward the pushing out of bad information like fake news).

‘Collections’ runs counter to moves made before the election such as the reworking of the algorithm to privilege personal sharing in the News Feed, a change that was itself an effort to return Facebook to something more like the interpersonal product that brought users onboard in the latter part of the last decade. ‘Collections’ is hopefully a sign of a new fate for Big Blue: a watering hole of (mostly news and live video) content where people consume before moving to Messenger and Facebook’s other subsidiary apps to digest in small interpersonal groups. I dream of losing a comment section that’s just filled with people tagging friends, but instead a share button that automatically pushes you into Messenger to plonk a link to some piece of Big Blue content in your group chat. Too bloated, too clumsy to offer anything between users, the best future for Big Blue is to simply be in front of users and nothing more.

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