The Social Media Wars


Two days ago, I woke up to my Facebook page being abducted by Facebook! We’d been given little time to prepare. Small changes to its interface, and the means of navigating it, had been added progressively throughout the summer. For example, the chat system has been completely redesigned. Messages and chat are inextricably linked. Now, rather than adding a friend, you “subscribe” to a friend. You can refine what you want to see of this friend: if you don’t want to see updates and comments of photos? you can turn that off? don’t care about their comments at all? you can turn that off as well.  You can tell Facebook you want to see “All updates,” “Some updates” or “Only Important updates” to your friends’ pages.

A screenshot of TheFacebook, circa 2005.

But most troublesome, I think, to users, was the look of the Facebook page itself.  Is a more kinetic.  In the top right corner of Facebook, a user will now see a realtime news feed.  It updates every time a friend does something (given the constraints you’ve set). I now have 671 Facebook friends.  This means the page flashes a new status update, or picture comment, or link to a favorite video, once every second or so. It’s mildly addicting. I like to see what my friends are doing and thinking.

The change was, inevitably, too much for many Facebook users. The outrage was instantaneous and pretty vehement.  Lots of long rants. “Funny” photos that said, in effect “If Facebook ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” In short, for a day or two, subscribers got to see an awful lot of exclamation points.  Some friends have pointed out (and I’m paraphrasing) that “changes like this led to the demise of MySpace, and Facebook deserves what’s coming to them.” A few friends were so frustrated with Facebook that they have decided to leave the social media site altogether. I joined in the fray only once, to say I didn’t see what the big deal was.

So we're aware that I'm not the only Jughead on the Internet...

I still don’t. The reaction to these changes seems truly Western; maybe uniquely American.  You don’t like a grocery store? Find another. Hate your music pastor? Go to the church next door.  Annoyed with Facebook? Shout a bit and emigrate to Google+.

Stuff changes. I remember the staff outcry at work, 20 years ago. when WordPerfect buried its command codes, and was navigable by mouse. You’d think the Devil himself had come down and shat right on the keyboards throughout the organization.  Of course, back then, there were few options, so people gritted their teeth and began using that worst-of-all-technological-breakthroughs, the mouse.

Ever wonder if you’ve jumped on the wrong train? We librarians have been very good at investing in “wrong” technologies.  When I began library school, back in 1994, semester-long classes were taught on how to navigate the online database Dialog. Our computing class taught us four means of searching The Internet Superhighway (when was the last time you’ve said *that*?) There were Archie (widely hailed as the first Search Engine), Veronica, and Jughead–to continue the comic book theme, each with a slightly different use, and each preposterously difficult to use. The first year Mosaic was made available to universities, I was still learning Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives, in case you were wondering). We eschewed Web browsers because they were a fad. We were told to invest in 100-disc CD-ROM jukeboxes, because this would be the information-serving path of the future. We were told not to get rid of card catalogs because we needed a backup.

Someday, inevitably, Facebook will fail. All things do. At this point, Google+ is a ghost town. I admit to its elegance–Google has the infrastructure to create and maintain a social media behemoth. To leave Facebook because of user interface? This smacks of leaping off a ship for all the wrong reasons. Take it from a guy who’s made a lot of tech mistakes. I even owned an Iomega Zip Drive, and ran OS/2 instead of Windows.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: do you use Facebook to meet, contact, inform, and stay in touch with friends? and do you trust Facebook enough to tweak their interface in a way that enhances the social media experience? I say yes on both counts, at least for now. But that’s just me. I finally got over the hurdle of having 666 friends.

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5 thoughts on “The Social Media Wars”

  1. Susan, I won’t complain about the changes because I am not a fb member anymore (also, I don’t vote, so no complaints from me on that topic either. I do my best to ignore politicians and political news since I gave all that up for Advent a few years back. The peace that I felt in my heart during that time was so soothing that I decided not to read that kind of news any more. Ignorance really is bliss.)

    Brian, your point about the news ticker is one of the main reasons I left fb. We all went to college at a time when there were no emails to share, so until the whole fb thing began, there was really no simple or inexpensive way on-line to get back in touch with people I knew and missed from college. fb allowed me to do that and I am grateful. That being said, as a person who has problems with procrastination and is easily distracted, I found that I was allowing fb to keep me from having meaningful exchanges with family and friends. Status updates, while sometimes interesting/amusing and comment-worthy, frequently led me to wonder, why am I reading this? And why did so-and-so think they needed to post this. (To be fair, there were times I wondered the same thing about stuff I posted or linked on fb, which is why I began the practice of scrubbing my wall on Saturdays–or sometimes shortly after I had posted something.)

    In the weeks before I left fb, I mentioned to my wife that fb was kind of like living in a big apartment complex where everyone keeps their balcony windows open. You can peep across the complex and watch your neighbors go about their lives. With binoculars–and an open floor plan–you might be able to see into their house as far as the kitchen and read the things hanging on their fridge. You also get to experience hearing your neighbors step out to their balcony and shout out random announcements. “We just finished a steak and prawn dinner and now my wife is dishing up the ice cream and brownies for dessert!” “I just rocked the video game I’m playing!” “Lend an ear as I proceed to pontificate to the deep theological revelation I had whilst sitting in my comfy chair.” “Check out the picture of the monster fur ball my cat just hocked up!” And so on. Although it might be fun to shout things back and forth from time to time, after a while one might be tempted to start closing the windows every now and then. And after that, the curtains.

    In short, the disjointed nature of my fb experience made me long for more meaningful exchanges. I enjoyed sitting around at Bethany and talking with people over the, uh, five years I was there. (Perhaps I sat around and talked too much.) I had hoped that fb would generate a similar kind of experience, but it didn’t turn out that way. Now, I’d like to get back to writing personal letters, preferably with a fountain pen or typed on my old Mercedes before scanning and sending them as a PDF to the college friends whose email addresses I now have. I already enjoy the extra time I have each day now that I no longer spend time thinking about what to post or how to comment. And not being distracted by the latest fb status update means I can dedicate time to reading your blogs and focus my attention on leaving an occasional (overly long) comment.

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly with you Loren. I’ve been the worst of all the “balconologists most probably. and I have problems with procrastination myself. Someday when I grow up, I’ll use FB for nothing more than to post (promote) my blog and leave it behind for more productive things. Until then, though, I’m hopelessly caught up in the swim of the news feed. I remember you, along with me, being a CNN Headline News Junkie, and on weekends watching HN until the early hours, even 8 or 10 times in a row, even when nothing was happening worldwide. It’s as if we were hoping something would happen so the glorious news feed would tell *us* first, or something. Then we could shout the from the Spot balcony. Someday, I’ll grow up, or give up politics for Advent, or both.

      Be praying I figure out how. I could use it.

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  2. As much as I haven’t liked the changes to Facebook, it’s a free site. It allows me to be connected to people all over the world and make new connections to those I’ve never met before. Complaining feels like griping about who’s in office when you didn’t vote.

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