Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bored with Facebook

Facebook is boring!

I have stopped using Facebook.  Not dramatically, like some of these drama majors, who declare that such-and-such a change in Facebook is pissed them off so much that they are "closing their accounts for good!" and then, two weeks later, mysteriously re-appearing on Facebook.

No, rather, I just found myself using it less and less.  I would spend an hour on it a day, then a half hour, then 15 minutes, then 5 minutes, then every other day, then "oh, hey, I haven't checked my Facebook page in a week" kind of deal.  SO I just don't go on it much anymore.  And when I do go on, I generally stay on for a matter of seconds and then leave.

Why is this?

Well, it is boring, plain and simple.  There is no "there" there.  If you look at Facebook from a rational perspective, there are two basic pages - your "feed" and your "profile".  It is like playing a piano with only four keys.

You can play a lot with your profile, adding pictures, likes, groups, and information, so that people visiting your "page" can learn a lot about you.  As one friend put it, it is a lot of braggadocio most of the time, as most of us put a positive "spin" on our lives.  We write down that we "recently graduated from a nationally acclaimed program!" but fail to mention it was of the 12-step variety.

The "new" profile page makes it harder to control this part of your facebook exposure, as it, by default, shows all your profile pictures, even if you are not using some of them anymore.  And this is one problem with Facebook, is that they keep tweaking it to keep up interest, when in fact, it is just annoying.  You get your profile to look like you want it, and then they decide to reformat everyone's profile page and yours looks like shit.  Want to spend another day fixing it?  I don't.

And of course, they keep making it harder to manage your "apps" and "likes" which allow 3rd parties access to your juicy demographic data.  Many of these "likes" were the subject of clickjack attacks which Facebook was very lackadaisical about policing - after all, when harvesting data from your client base is your business model, you can't very well criticize others for doing the same!

The other page is the "feed" page, which has little Twitter-like snippets from your friends of what they are doing, what apps they "like" (basically avowals of loyalty to various branding schemes of our corporate overlords) and the tiny minutiae of their daily lives.  This is disturbing on two levels.

First, one reason I am friends with a lot of these people is that I don't know what they are doing on a minute-by-minute basis.  Facebook removes all the mystery from a relationship, and leaves you with little to talk about in real life.  You meet a friend and talk about something you recently did - and then quickly realize they already read about it on your "feed".

Second, there are a lot of people who you have as "Facebook friends" who are not real friends in real life, in the sense you see them more than once a year - if ever.  And knowing what they made for dinner is really irrelevant.  You get tired of hearing what some high school chum is doing this very minute, and you realize that it is information that is just background noise - information that has the appearance of value but is not inherently "signal" in the Electrical Engineering sense.

And as I noted, a lot of these Facebook posts are just "Joe likes Olive Garden!" which is sort of just an advertisement - and Gee, we don't get enough advertisements in our lives without making ourselves into them ourselves.  And Gee, we don't make ourselves into corporate shills enough already, do we?

So, what else is there to DO on Facebook?  Well, one of the guilty pleasures of Facebook is what I call "spelunking" the database - looking through records of friends of friends, or searching by name, to find Facebook pages of people you haven't seen in a long time, or old friends, family members, or even enemies.

The problem here is twofold.  First, once you have exhausted the names of everyone in your High School Yearbook, you basically run out of something to do here.  Second, as I have noted before Everyone's Facebook Page Looks the Same.  Sad, but true, your facebook page, with pictures of your kids and pets, your likes and dislikes, pictures of you "getting wild" on vacation or at the holiday Christmas Party look JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE'S.

You might find some long lost friend on Facebook, but learn very little of who they are or what they are doing from a Facebook page.  If you are curious as to what ever happened to that High School Cheerleader you used to date, just pick the Facebook page of someone who looks like her, about the same age as she would be today - you'll get as much hard data as you would from the real thing.   Self-reported data is always suspect!

And that is the part of Facebook that is utterly depressing.  We all like to think we are dramatic individuals, unlike any other person, when in fact, we are just like each other.  All Facebook Profile Pages Look Alike!

As I have noted before, Facebook is like a piano with four keys.  You can play only a limited number of tunes on it, and while you may think you are being "original" in your playing of it, in fact, you are playing the tune they have herded you to play.  It is like being on a "Reality TV" show - they don't give you lines to say, but they tell you what to do, nevertheless.

In fact, it is a bit disturbing and fascist, if you think about it - your life is reduced to the same set of parameters as everyone else's.  There is no room for creativity or differentiation, other than selecting from a limited number of known options.  It is not like creating your own web page in HTML, where you can select format, content, and even music and video.  It is just filling out a form basically.  A glorified form, but a form, nevertheless.  A person's life, reduced to an IBM punch-card.

So after a while, even those of us with long attention spans lose interest.  What is there to do?  Post pictures?  Done that.  Look at a long-lost friend's home page?  Done that.  Post your latest status to the "wall"?  Done that.  Read what restaurant or corporation your "friends" like?  Done that.  Waste countless hours playing an online game like "Farmville"?  Uh, no thanks.  Not interested.  Clicked on one of their helpful ads for crazy Internet rip-offs?  Not interested either.

The problem with Facebook is the same problem MySpace had, and Friendster had before it, and even Classmates had.  You need to change the site to create new levels of interest, but at the same time, change pisses off a lot of users.    There needs to be a raison d'etre for the site, once you've gotten bored with all the three things to do on it.

And I am not sure there is anything you can add to this to make it compelling again to a user, once they are bored.

Like Myspace and AOL before it, they will claim to have hundreds of millions of "active users" and continue to soldier on.  But the key will be, moving forward, as to whether those users are as active as they once were, or whether, like Twitter, they have hit a wall in terms of growth and use of the service.

UPDATE:  Facebook-free for almost a decade now!   And it feels great!