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Facebook sux [May. 24th, 2008|11:14 am]
In which Wade expresses dissatisfaction with a puzzingly popular social networking website.

[Warning: I'm feeling bitchy today.]

A Diatribe

I dislike Facebook. Here's why.

  • There is no effective way to articulate one's thoughts on facebook. The primary environment is picture-and-snippet based, not content-based. It feels like Facebook is an environment that is useful for people with the attention span of a gnat, and for people who think that physical attractiveness is sufficient justification to get to know someone. To be fair, I'm sure there are blog-style applications that can be added, but the way facebook is set up, applications get marginalized, and I very much doubt most people do more than skim written content. Facebook seems to think that everything can be expressed with a picture or one sentence. I happen to think that most interesting things can NOT be expressed with a picture or a single sentence.

  • There is only one category of interpersonal relationship built into facebook: a "friend". I have the same frustration with LJ friends, but it is even more irritating on facebook for various reasons. Anyways, having a single interpersonal relationship category poses a real problem for me when people I don't know, and people I know but don't consider friends, send me a friend request. I've added the 'Circle of Friends' application as a means of providing more clarity, but it is a hassle to keep it up-to-date, people almost certainly don't bother looking at it anyways, and I'm still put in the situation far too often of deciding what to do with a particular friend request:

    • If I don't know them:

      • I'm puzzled as to why they would send a friend request. There are many possible reasons, but so many of them aren't reasons I find appealing. For example, people who pad their friends list with strangers just to make themselves look more popular are ... Wade censors more uncharitable descriptions not interesting.

      • I'm irritated that they aren't capable of sending a message articulating the reason for the friend request. Yet more confirmation that actual content is beyond the grasp of most facebook users.

      • I still haven't decided on how to deal with these requests.

    • If I know them and do not consider them a friend:

      • Accepting them as a friend is just plain not appealing, even if I promptly put them into my 'Acquaintances' category in 'Circle of Friends'.

      • Clicking 'Ignore', without an explanation, goes against my policy of honesty and openness and frankness. I haven't used this approach yet, but maybe I should start doing so.

      • Sending a message saying "I don't really like you" isn't appropriate unless the person in question is open to such frankness (and if they were open to it, I probably wouldn't dislike them in the first place :-). Sending a more diplomatic message is a possibility, but is an irritating waste of my time.

      • Just letting the request sit there is unsatisfactory.

      • What would be much preferred is if facebook were to add an Acquaintance category. However, I appreciate that this opens a can-of-worms for facebook - if they do that, people will want more and more official categories.

    • If I know them and like them, I happily add them.

  • Sending messages using the facebook interface is cumbersome and unwieldly, increasing the likelihood that people will send short and content-free messages to one another.

  • Wall posts are utterly vacuous.

  • Because of the lack of content on Facebook profiles, finding kindred spirits is much more difficult than it should be, given all the information facebook has available.

  • Facebook pictures are often incredibly deceiving, and place too much emphasis on appearance. People are very likely to consciously or unconsciously post only pictures of themselves (and their friends) that they like, which may or may not accurate reflect what the person really looks like.

  • I'm only allowed to see the profiles of people who are in the same networks as me (or who have poked me, etc. etc.). Is this really what the majority of facebook users want? If this obsessive focus on privacy were just the "default" setting, I wouldn't object. But facebook doesn't even allow me to change this - even if I want everyone in the world to see my profile, I don't have the ability to do this. Why not? This really pisses me off.

    The useful thing about diatribes like this is that they force me to confirm that my impressions about things are stil accurate. So I checked the privacy tab, and discovered that facebook has added another level of non-privacy - I can now allow friends of friends to see my profile. This is one step closer to "everyone", but is still a long ways away (and I had to enable it for every sub-category manually - geesh!). If it was the transitive closure of friends, I'd be completely happy, because that would mean basically everyone. But I suspect that "friends of friends" means exactly that, not also "friends of friends of friends" and "friends of friends of friends of friends", etc.

  • The superficiality of almost every single application is truly stunning. Take Are You Interested? as an example. This is an application that shows a picture of a person, and allows you to indicate whether you are interested in them or not (with buttons "Yes (Let Them Know)", "Yes (Anonymous)" and "Skip"). The information provided includes their first name, their age, their gender, their city and (if the user provided it, a tiny little blurb about themselves - most people don't bother filling it out). The application most specifically does NOT provide access to their full facebook profile. The application doesn't even allow you to specify any age range (you are allowed to specify your gender, your age, the gender of the person you are looking for, and what country they are from (for privileged countries you can further refine to province or state).

    So, what this application is apparently implying is that I can determine whether I'm interested in someone based on a single picture, their age and their location. This is absurd. The application would be so much more useful if I was allowed to see their full profile AND the profile provided non-superficial information about the person. But the way it is now, the application actively encourages people to be utterly superficial. And to base their superficiality on a picture selected by the other person (and thus unlikely to be representative of what they look like day-to-day, since they are almost certain to pick their "favorite" picture, one that matches their own internal perceptions of themselves - and humans ability for self-deception means that such pictures are probably not very accurate).

    Other applications are depressingly similar in their superficiality. Even if they provide the ability to refine one's search a bit more than the above app, none of them provide complete control over the search. In some ways it isn't the fault of the application writers - the infrastructure provided by facebook is apparently intentionally limiting. Presumably this is done in the interest of "respect for privacy", which is all fine and good, but for those of us who don't need privacy, why is facebook limiting us? And why doesn't facebook allow applications to provide much more accurate searching facilities? If I'm feeling superifical and want to scan thru a parade of girls to indicate which one's I'm interested in, why on earth am I forced to look at girls from Los Angeles? Admittedly, this particular issue may not be facebook's fault, but rather the fault of the application writer - I have seen apps that allow you to limit the search to "within 10 miles", etc., so apparently facebook doesn't preclude that.

  • Every application makes me waste time clicking the Skip button so as not to spam my friends list with requests that they add the applications I'm using. WTF? I appreciate that the developers of the apps are probably teenage kids with confidence issues who will feel much better about themselves if lots of people use their application. I also appreciate that almost all apps are more useful to everyone the more people use them. That doesn't stop me from being damned irritated with this spammyness.

In any event, I dislike Facebook. Bah humbug. Maybe I'm just not using the right apps?

A Job Offer

Amusingly, just a few days ago I received the following message on facebook:

Subject: Opportunities at Facebook

Hey Wade

I'm a recruiter here at Facebook and was wondering if you'd be interested in exploring potential opportunities within our Ops and SRE teams. As you probably know, we're growing at a pretty aggressive rate and we're looking for experienced SRE types who understand the issues involved with supporting a rapidly scaling infrastructure.

Let me know if you're interested in chatting further.


[Facebook Dude's Name]
Sr Technical Recruiter
[email address]

Since I happen to quite like my current job, I have no interest in switching to Facebook. If they produced an environment I enjoyed using, this message would be more interesting, but they'd still need to provide me with free transportation, free food, and a "Don't be evil" culture. Besides which, "I work for Google" is far more appealing to sapiosexually inclined girls than "I work for Facebook", or so my story goes :-)

Ew, Commercialism

The job offer is, however, an interesting example of Facebook's potential in the advertising world. How did someone from Facebook happen to know that I might be a good candidate for a job they were looking to hire for? Because my facebook profile tells them. We users voluntarily provide all sorts of information about ourselves. Of course, we do it so that we can find kindred spirits, but Big Business can also benefit from this information by using it to provide highly targetted ads. And as long as these ads are truly well targetted, I suppose I don't object (and I happen to be very ad-blind anyway, so it is kinda irrelevant). I didn't even (conciously) realize Google provided ads on google searches till I started working for them - I'm just not remotely consumer driven, so such ads are truly useless to me.

When I first arrived at Google, other Googlers commented (with amusement) that the rumors were that Facebook was certain that Google felt threatened by Facebook (the amusement of the Googlers would seem to indicate that Facebooks belief that Google was threatened by them wasn't particular accurate). Not being remotely business-oriented, at the time I didn't even know how Google made its money, so I had no clue why the world's most popular search engine would be threatened by a (sucky) social networking site. Only when I discovered that both Google and Facebook are effectively just pimps for commercialism did this make more sense. Google and Facebook make their money from selling ads. Google's success in keyword-based advertising (a person searching for tennis shoes is likely to respond to ads about tennis shoes) has demonstrated that fewer ads that are well targetted is a better model than more ads that are less well targetted. Facebook argues that because they have so much information about their users, they can create highly targetted ads. And this is a completely valid point. Except that Facebook hasn't yet implemented very smart ad technology - we'll see if they can manage to add 2+2 :-) Furthermore, since I have zero interest in Google becoming an ads monopoly, I sincerely hope that Facebook succeeds. It isn't as if Facebook is going to "take down Google" - Facebook's power comes from knowing information about users, and is thus limited to the people that join it. Google's power comes from presenting information. Many more people search Google than join Facebook, so I feel quite confident that Google will continue to earn enough money to pay for my salary and my transportation and my food and my trips to disney and my quarterly offsite team-building adventures and my tickets to various movies, etc. And to continue building a company that has a staggering number of incredibly wonderful ideas, like open operating systems for mobile phones, open social networks, RE<C (an initiative to make Reneweable Energy less expensive than Carbon), and all the other aspects of a "Don't Be Evil" philosophy (i.e. "don't hold the users information hostage", "don't trap people into using only one vendor", "there are ways to be environmental conscious while still making money", "be ethical and people will reward that behavior", "be ethical because it is the right thing to do", etc.

Emo Me

There is a story being bandied about nowadays that is quite thought provoking. Apparently, if you ask a teenager what email is for, a common response is "Oh, that's something you use to talk to old people". Because teenagers apparently find facebook to be exactly what they want in a social networking environment. Admittedly, teenagers aren't know for their depth, so a mostly content-free environment probably fits quite well with the average teenagers psyche. I wonder if it would have fit with mine.

The fact that teenagers apparently consider email "ancient technology" and consider facebook as better technology is quite distrubing to me. Why, you wonder? Because it suggests that maybe my interest in transhumanism is doomed to cause me grief. Transhumanism argues that world-altering paradigm shifts are occuring closer and closer together, and that eventually paradigm shifts are going to stack on top of one another so rapidly that the result will be beyond anything we can conceive of right now. For the pessimists of the world, this sounds like Doom's Day (you are boring). For the optimists, this sounds like human-made Nirvana (we are cool). However, in order to benefit from all these paradigm shifts, individual humans have to be able to "keep up" with them. Facebook is by no means a paradigm shift by itself, it is just one example of the paradigm shift called "The World Wide Web". But if facebook really is "evolved email", and I can't embrace it, what does that say about my ability to embrace a real paradigm shift?

Of course, in this particular case it is a red herring. Just because superficial limited-attention-span teenagers with higher hormone and blood alcohol levels than IQ like facebook doesn't mean we all have to :-)

And I'm not even saying facebook doesn't have potential. I just don't know whether facebook will develop in the direction where its potential would be fully realized, or if they are going to continue with their frivolous superficiality instead.

Aren't I just pissy today!

I could say lots more, but I'm bored of writing now. So I stop.


[User Picture]From: cindy_reddeer
2008-05-24 06:51 pm (UTC)
I use Facebook to keep in touch with my cousins, family and real life friends. I use it like it's my public face. Nothing racy or that I would be embarrassed someone I worked with saw. I do have a few LJ friends on there that I haven't met personally, but we are exceptionally close on LJ and they also use Facebook for their "public" face. I have rediscovered some school friends which has been really cool, and we are planning our 25th high school reunion there.

Facebook has it's uses, but the truly open me is on LJ.
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[User Picture]From: metawade
2008-05-24 07:18 pm (UTC)
Hiya Cindy.

When I first heard about Facebook, I thought "interesting - since it forces people to be identify themselves for real (if they are to benefit from other people tagging them in photos and to be found by others searching for them), maybe that means the website will encourage people to also "be real". Sadly, it seems that the opposite occurs, because for too many people "public face" means "fluffy face". I need to start advocating for one's public face being their "real face".

Meh. Still feeling pissy :-( :-)

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[User Picture]From: cindy_reddeer
2008-05-24 09:40 pm (UTC)
There are just somethings one likes to keep private or only known to the inner circle of friends. Not because of shame or anything, where is the mystery if everyone knows everything about you whether they are a close friend or an acquaintance. There are levels of privacy depending how well you know someone...at least for me. lol ;-)

You can feel pissy if you want...it's allowed. :D
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From: iisz
2008-05-24 06:57 pm (UTC)
I have all those issues with it too. I dislike that there is no way to find out what is actually going on with friends, I like LJ better for that and have tried to get people to join it instead. I do have a link to LJ entries, but since my posts are friends only, I doubt that it does any good.

I despise most of the apps. I like scrabulous, but I joined Mob wars and all I do is earn fake money from it. I HATE being prompted to send out fucking invitations all the time, and ignore 99.9% of the ones I get. I get greeting cards all the time that claim my friends will only know I care if I send it back, so I send it back to only them in an effort to prevent suicides.

And I am more ruthless than you when it comes to adding friends. I don't know you? Fuck off.

The one app I don't mind is Funwall, because it allows me to send videos I like for whatever reason, and receive them from friends. The ones I usually get are funny, but sometimes political. But I hate it when I get pink unicorns and shit. I had joined a Group for Invisible Disabilities, which was horribly mispelt btw, and all that women sent was fucking pink unicorn shit. Then she would send oddly bigoted cards as well, such as a picture of a large women, dressed as a punk fairy type thing and bare breasted, with the caption "Heaven doesn't want her". When I asked the woman NOT to send me those types of things because they are mean spirited, she freaked out. Oh well.

And the poking OMG. It never stops. WRITE ME A MESSAGE! That's it the cycle of poking ends with me, TODAY!

Sigh, unfortunately it is a link to some people who will never write a blog, and a way to play scrabulous, so I'm stuck with it like stinky garbage until trash day.

Wow, guess I'm pissy too. :)
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[User Picture]From: metawade
2008-05-24 07:52 pm (UTC)

lack of content: yup - this has irrited me from the very beginning.

apps: yup, they do suck. And unfortunately I don't care enough to sit down and learn the API so I could write an app that didn't suck. Providing some very simple blogging capabilities would go a long way to reducing the content-free nature of FB. Sigh. If only humans didn't need to sleep - there are so many things I need to do to make earth better :- )

adding friends: Yeah, I don't have as much of a dilemma wrt people I don't know - I've taken to adding them, and if they don't make an effort to correspond within N days, I just punt them. It is the people who I do know, but don't consider friends, that really act as a sliver in my ass. And slivers in one's ass sound very uncomfortable (thankfully I have never had one literally, just figuratively).

Funwall: Haven't tried it, I don't think. Hell, for all I know, it might even be on my list - I have closed them all and don't bother opening them. I really need to do some spring cleaning on my FB. My sympathies on the oddly bigoted girl. Personally, I love my pink unicorn icon, because it doesn't mean "cute and cuddly girly frufru", it means "I think you are nuts if you believe in a god" :-)

poking: is only cool when it is a euphemism for fucking.

sop for illiterates: yeah, stinky garbage is sometimes a necessary evil. I suck at scrabble.

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[User Picture]From: metawade
2008-05-24 07:57 pm (UTC)
oops - used the wrong icon for the above reply!
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[User Picture]From: cindy_reddeer
2008-05-24 09:42 pm (UTC)
if they don't make an effort to correspond within N days

This made me giggle, Mr. Disappears for months from LJ ;-)
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[User Picture]From: m_danson
2008-05-24 10:28 pm (UTC)
I agree with most of what you said. I have a Facebook account (got dragged in) that I only use for scrabble and arranging meetings with my local friends that are on there. The status line can be fun. One of my friends puts up unique and strange messages every day.

I'm rarely on there anymore.
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[User Picture]From: winterlion
2008-05-26 08:38 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, FaceCult, that experimental targetting marketing app with many hidden security holes and identity theft hooks....

I have one because ... well I got curious.
and I don't like what I saw - and still don't.

oh and I've got access to the "google app developer kit". This makes me happy. Now I just need to figure out how to work with it... I would much rather be programming ;)
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[User Picture]From: diachrony
2008-05-27 12:03 am (UTC)
I unwillingly got a MySpace which actually turned out to be a good thing because I found a dance teacher there - with classes within walking distance! Otherwise I mostly ignore it, and don't actually find it that intrusive. I ignore or deny the spam-type friend requests, and I have an adblocker at home which makes the site both less offensive to the eyes and less hard on my dialup.

Facebook, on the other hand, I am determined to avoid altogether. And everything I hear just strengthens my determination.
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From: rogue_priestess
2008-05-27 06:42 am (UTC)
I use it as a networking device: to get in touch with people like past acquaintances, grad classmates in case of reunion, etc.

when it first came out, I was all over the applications and whatnot to personalize it, but then realized it got WAY out of hand very quickly. I just use it as a glorified address book now.
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[User Picture]From: luighseach
2008-05-27 07:49 am (UTC)
Hey, I got the transhumanist thing! That was about time. I now feel utterly slow. :oP

I am really with you on the facebook thing. It CAN be used in non-shallow ways, obviously, but that is not how I see my teenage facebook friends and family use it. The people I know in their forties and fifties using it, though. Hey, here I am, if you know me, we can use this to create a connection that will not die if facebook does. That seems to be the way they communicate, and I like that way of it.

People my age are somewhere in between. As with the rest of life, I suppose.
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From: spriitruth
2008-10-16 06:55 pm (UTC)

I am one of the old people...

Hi Wade,

I am one of the OLD people who likes e-mail, and phone calls, and face to face and body to body. But I also like Facebook. I agree with most of what you said in your post about Facebook. I, also am annoyed about the lack of categories of "friends". I am "friends" with genuine friends on Facebook (but precious few fall into that category.) Also, "close family members", "extended family members", "friends of my daughter", "acquaintances" "people I met in my HAI workshop", "people I met in the Straight Spouse Network" "people I haven't met, but are in the Straight Spouse Network", "people I haven't met, but are in the HAI community page" - (they asked me to be friends), "people who know my daughter and asked me to be friends and who I wouldn't know from Adam if I passed them on the street". I am also "friends" with Mark Morford who I don't know personally, but who accepts anyone who asks him to be a friend and it allows me to be able to keep track of his new columns and other things that might be of interest to me. Like you, I say "no" to those people who ask me to be friends and we don't even have one friend in common and they don't even know me and it also pisses me off that if I "message" them to ask them "How do I know you" (my old brain might just have forgotten), they then have a month of access to my profile and my list of friends. I did send in a complaint about that and asked that they have a button to choose or not choose that option when you send a message to someone.

But I like Facebook because it allows me to get an idea of what my (23 year old) daughter is doing every day (she uses it a lot, also Twitter). Also, to keep in touch with her friends. And I do enjoy seeing pictures of my acquaintances and friends and their children. The small amount of contact I can have on Facebook works for what my relationship is with a large number of people. My friends' 15 year old daughter posted that she was sick and I told her to get lots of rest and drink tea. Later I called to find out how she was doing. I heard her laugh in the background when one of her mothers asked me how I knew she was sick. This girl and I have had virtually no real previous contact one on one, and this small contact felt good to me.

Even before I read this post of yours about Facebook, I considered asking you to be "friends" on FB, but then I noticed your relatively small number of "friends" and deduced that you would only want people you really considered friends on your list and we are not (yet) real friends.

BTW, might I point out that you wanted to IM the other day rather than write a real e-mail or talk on the phone.

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