The Facebook experiment has failed. Let’s go back.

I am signed into Facebook right now. At a quick glance, the entire list of posts on the first screen are irrelevant to me. If I scrolled down I can find 4 stories I actually care about, from a list of about 30. The most important page on Facebook has more than three-fourths of absolutely useless content.

Surprising. Facebook is a company with a very large number of talented people. They know a lot about me. Yet, their product looks like one of those spam filled mailboxes from the nineties.

The problem is Sharing. It is the most fundamental feature of Facebook, and it’s completely broken.

Indiscriminate Sharing

While the social network is in a way similar to real world associations, the way sharing works on Facebook is completely disconnected from reality. In the real world, you don’t have information that you need to share with every single person you know.

But that’s how it works on Facebook, unless you jump through hoops to make lists and share selectively.

Facebook gets worse the more you use it

As you use Facebook more, you start accumulating friends. You become part of groups. You end up telling Facebook more about what you like and your preferences. But according to their design, every connection or ‘like’ is also a chance for somebody’s updates to get into the list of stories shown to you.

After a period of active use, you have way too many friends, groups and pages that can get stories into your feed.

Loudmouths now have gigantic megaphones

Since everybody is on Facebook, one can expect that it will in some way mirror the behavior of society in general. In the real world however, people’s opinions only have a limited reach.

Facebook is godsent for people who love to talk, but have nothing to say. Here is a network that doesn’t care about originality or the quality of content. In the time it takes to create something original, they could share dozens of things.

Just like its features, Facebook algorithms are equally stupid. Share more, get noticed more. Originality be damned.

Social Media Scamsters

Social Media Marketing is big business. Just like SEO and SEM, Social Media Marketing works by actively gaming the system. While Google actively tries to thwart SEO scamsters, Facebook encourages behavior that reduces the overall quality of content on the network.

The way Facebook advertising works, it bumps the spamming potential of a ‘Like’ up a notch. A ‘Like’ on a product or service will make a paid story visible not just to the person who liked it, but also to their friends.

Inevitably, there is an entire industry working non-stop creating low quality, emotionally appealing content that gets ‘likes’ from gullible users.

It can’t be fixed. It’s over.

The thing is, these aren’t accidental flaws in Facebook. These are features.

An ideal Facebook would have been a directory of people and their connections. People can message each other, post text updates and pictures.

In the end, there is a lot to learn from this massive social experiment. Your friend circle and impulsive actions such as ‘likes’ cannot predict what you want to read. Indiscriminate sharing is a bad idea. A large social network isn’t the best way to find information.

We need to go back to smaller communities. Where people aren’t lost in the mediocre averages of large networks. That’s where ideas flourish.

That journey has begun.

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Next Story — The .Net Foundation: Too little, too late
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The .Net Foundation: Too little, too late

Or why Microsoft’s recent Open Source announcements are likely to have very limited impact

I woke up to some interesting news from Microsoft’s Build Conference. Microsoft is creating a community called the .Net Foundation with the aim of open sourcing key components of the .Net framework. As part of it, they also announced an open source C# compiler called Roslyn. It seems that their goals are even broader; rumor has it that they might open source the .Net Framework itself and actively support Mono on non-Windows platforms.

It’s too little, too late, however.

The problem with C# is .Net. The problem with .Net is Windows.

For programmers who have used Linux or a Mac for a while, the lack of a good command shell in Windows is a big handicap. Even worse, the GUI and the command shell seems utterly tasteless. People genuinely interested in programming are unlikely to choose Windows over more flexible alternatives.

And that happens to be .Net’s biggest problem. .Net smells of Windows, which is not an accident. It was conceived at a time when Windows ruled the roost, and was meant to be a platform-dependent version of Java. Mono would challenge this later, but that’s another story.

The best thing about Open Source is that communities have great leaders. If Windows cannot attract the best programmers in the world, Microsoft’s communities are going to be left headless.

Why should we work with Microsoft?

In June 2001, Steve Ballmer called Open Source and Linux “a cancer”. Since then Microsoft has used monopolistic practices and patent threats to stop the wider adoption of Open Source software. The mistrust in the open source community is deep; it stems from actions over more than twenty years.

Open source is a belief, an attitude and a set of values. It cannot be killed. Nothing captures this story better than Redhat’s prophetic 2006 video titled ‘Truth Happens’ which quotes Mahatma Gandhi.

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

It ends cryptically with a reference to where we are. In the post-PC era Microsoft has a tiny market share in mobile devices. Linux is winning the battle for server rooms. Microsoft is no longer the force it was; it is desperately trying to adapt to survive.

Across the internet, anything coming from Microsoft is greeted with immediate skepticism and an automatic dismissal.

So, what can be done? Here is my wishlist.

  • Buy Xamarin. Not just for Mono, but also for Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman. Give them a free hand in how to deal with Open Source.
  • Stop using patents offensively
  • Windows doesn’t have a very bright future, everybody knows this. Make it a compatibility layer over Linux.
  • Abandon Internet Explorer and support Firefox. IE team can make huge contributions to Firefox.
  • Go further than Google in embracing Open Source. Don’t just open up code, but data as well. Such as Bing’s indexes.
  • Announce the new direction. There is no better time than right now.

See what Google does. Android is based on Linux. Chrome is built on Webkit. Go is open source, and so is Dart.

I am hopeful; this seems like a different Microsoft. If Microsoft swims with the community we all win.

Go to the profile of jeswinjeswin
Next Story — Yahoo doesn’t grok design
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Yahoo doesn’t grok design

I am excited about the changes Marissa Mayer is making at Yahoo. The company is back in the news, there is excitement in the air, stock prices have soared. But from what we have seen in the past week, I can’t help think that Yahoo doesn’t really get design.

Flickr announced a major update today, and it is getting a lot of good press for it. Users are getting a full terabyte of free storage, and they get to upload huge high resolution images.

But just look at that page. Flickr is about photography, framing matters. Beautiful, high-resolution images will look terrible if you place it in a poor frame. And that is exactly what Flickr has done.

The new Flickr
  • The text sections below the image are unaligned; it looks cluttered and all over the place.
  • Did they really want a contrast as stark as Black and White? It is a distraction from the all important content on the page, the Photograph.
  • Typography is one of the most fundamental aspects of graceful design. And now that browser support has caught up, why something as boring as Arial?
  • If you aren’t signed in, Flickr’s welcome page looks like a mishmash of common UI patterns. The end result isn’t that welcoming.

Now the other Yahoo! story that is making news, Tumblr. Sure they have a lot of users, but so did Geocities which they acquired a decade back. It looks just as good or bad as any other blogging platform out there. If you have ever used Medium or seen Ghost, you would have nothing to do with the uninspiring design of Tumblr.

The Tumblr Dashboard

After years of struggle, technology has progressed sufficiently for digital media to match the elegance and poise of print. We are still not there yet, but sites like Medium are pushing these boundaries. If Yahoo wants to become relevant again, they need to be doing just that.

We live in great times. Design matters. And Yahoo, be brave.

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