Monday, May 17, 2010

Anti-Social Behavior of a Social Network

Or ways to unfriend everyone at once and lose bragging rights to the Web.

Facebook, once the promise of clean, fun social networking, lately has taken one move after another out of the Orwell playbook.

It is now one of the most cluttered and confusing websites since Yahoo.  What was once a relatively sharp, bright interface and simple concept has grown into a complex, non-intuitive, morass of functions that tend to complicate rather than ease contact with others. Perhaps confusion is by design. Months ago Facebook redesigned their simple menus and lately they've been trying to link user's profiles to a host of other third parties.  It's privacy policy has become a blank check.  Going from annoying to creepy, akin to some psychological horror movie, the site represents your associations and you get the sense from strangers that the call is coming from inside the house.

For example, when one signs in to see "what's on the mind" of his contacts, he wants to see the News Feed of what his friends have posted; rather he's faced with a splash of ways to do something else, often without a "no thanks" button. It's like a childhood bully blocking your way to your locker. Today, I was presented the option to link to pages that were "suggested" by the information I put in my profile. I was prompted as to whether I wanted to link my profile to them. When I deselected the fifteen items, I was in effect (as I soon learned), erasing them from my profile. Back to my hallway bully analogy, I just got "bookchecked."  So I can't tell you what I do for a living or my favorite film without linking to some other page, because now I have no profile.

For more than a year, I have not used any of the fun applications or websites, because Facebook shares my information with these outside developers. So no fun, just news from my friends.

With the new design came some wonky, non-intuitiveness. For intance, when I click on "Photos," I expect to see my own.  No go. I see everyone's except my own.  Once I find my own albums, it's very difficult to find profile photos. I can't tell you how; I just keep clicking about the site till I stumble across a link.

If I want to send an email, it isn't called that. Facebook changed the name to "Messages," arguably a more general term that doesn't distinguish from postings and instant messages, two other things one might do on the site.

Okay, so for the past year the site was again and again going against the grain of user-friendly.  It was breaking down social mores as it was touting social-networking. (Hmmmmm.  Oedipus, Macbeth, and other tragic heroes and fatal ironies come to mind.)

With 400 million registered users, more than Google users, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to be for the 2010s what America Online was for the 1990s" and dominate the Web. (A-hmm, is that a good business model? to plan to be ignored in a decade?)  In any case, it seems we have a good bit of classical hubris, Me-generation myopia, and a whole lot of greed for information and the money they can make for third-parties connecting to it.

But now, this past week, came an outcry over privacy and Facebook's do-first-ask-later practice of sharing the 50 billlion items of personal information with third parties.

What started out as a lively way to keep in touch with friends and family, has turned into an abuse of trust and privacy. Is that what social networks will become?  Zuckerberg phrases Facebook's sharing of information as "social experiences."  Count me as unsocial, then. Facebook is a popular, but awkard site today, with a clever and untrustworthy leadership.

Zuckerber is 26 (yes, Orwell, born in 1984), and 31 is the average age of FB employees, and I can recall how ready I was at that age to run an international company with 400 million customers.

Ultimately, I figure it's Facebook's site, Zuckerberg and his thirtysomethings  can do what they want.  But if they take over the world, I'm ready to move planets. Hurt and dissappointed by Facebook, I look forward to the promise of other social networks such as Diaspora (see below), not threat of Big Brother. Orwell, move over, you're getting company.

Image: The "F" design is a trademark of Facebook, used here inverted for commentary.

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