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.
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.
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.