A Response to the Facebook Experiment
It’s Not the System that’s Broken
In a recent post, writer Jeswin offers some insightful thoughts about how to deal with all of the content we see when we log into Facebook. (In all honesty, whoever actually logs out?) Jeswin writes:
[…] 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 […]
After a period of active use, you have way too many friends, groups and pages that can get stories into your feed.
Yep, nailed it.
Jeswin blames this problem on two groups of people. First, there are the “people who love to talk, but have nothing to say”. Second, there is the way the system is designed: “The way Facebook advertising works, it bumps the spamming potential of a ‘Like’ up a notch.”
Combine loudmouths and a broken design and we suddenly find ourselves at 2am with blurry eyes and fingers that won’t stop scrolling.
“[T]hese aren’t accidental flaws in Facebook,” Jeswin writes. “These are features.”
Someone Save Us!
There have been attempts to solve this deluge of meaninglessness.
Google Plus actually made it easy to separate people into groups, or Circles in Google vernacular. For the brief weeks I played around with it, I found it delightfully easy to separate people into Work, Family, Friends, and Tech circles. Facebook of course has something like this, but it is exactly how Jeswin describes it: jumping through hoops. The infamous problem with Google Plus, though, was that none of my family or friends were there. (They updated the design in May and it’s fantastic. Alas, my friends are still on Facebook.)
A second option is to do exactly what Jeswin suggests: “We need to go back to smaller communities.” This is how Path was designed. Instead of letting your friend list balloon uncontrollably , Path limited you originally to 50, and later 150. I also tried out the app, but found the same problem as Google Plus—none of my friends were there. Registered users has reached 12 million, according to CEO Dave Morin, but they’ve been plagued by backlash after an update sent invites to all of your contacts. Oh, the irony.
A third option is to handle information like Twitter: connecting with a person is a one-way street. Facebook notoriously is On or Off in terms of interaction, while Twitter’s stance is, “If you don’t want to hear their stuff, don’t follow them—but they can follow you.” Facebook added a similar option in 2011 and it seems to have caught on decently well, numbers-wise. However, soon we fall into the Jeswin’s quicksand quoted above: “too many friends, groups and pages”.
Facebook itself actually tried to fix this problem by sorting your Feed for you. Instead of ordering content chronologically, Facebook’s algorithms sort out the posts that are popular and important to you. I don’t know about you, but I never use this feature. Sure, Facebook knows a lot about me, but how are they supposed to know what I think is important? It’s still all based on likes and comments.
We keep looking to companies and apps to fix our problems with over-information. There certainly is something to be said for designing things that help our weaknesses, but in the end we have to be willing to confront the root of the issue:
We are the Broken Ones
Facebook could certainly improve its design. Maybe they could make it easier to break our ginormous list of friends into groups, or perhaps they could not reward the share-aholics. But ultimately, my thought is the same as the one Ben Gage posted in the comments: “I don’t understand how this is Facebook’s fault.”
Technology is just a tool. A hammer is a tool to help me build; a car is a tool to help me travel; a computer is a tool to help me work; and a social network is a tool to help me connect. The tool does what we tell is to do.
As Jeswin also wrote, but seemed to forget:
Since everybody is on Facebook, one can expect that it will in some way mirror the behavior of society in general.
We were loudmouths before Facebook. Add a bullhorn with global reach and our worst tendencies are amplified. Sharing is a great feature and lets me easily re-post an interesting article (like Jeswin’s), but in the hands of a trigger-happy late-nighter it can wreak havoc.
In a response to stretchkiwi’s comment, Jeswin acknowledges, “I think it’s up to us.” But personally, I don’t think we need to run away from Facebook in order to fix it. The 150 friends you have on Path could still give you an endless stream of nonsense.
It comes down to taking responsibility for our actions and being intentional with what we say.
Next time you post something, ask yourself if it adds value to your friends. Everything you post takes time to read/watch/look at, so think about how you are asking others to spend their time. By being purposeful with what we say, ideas can indeed flourish.