There was a time in the early 2000′s where spam was becoming a threat to email… you had to filter through lots of spam to get to genuine emails… the time spent filtering was greater than the time spent reading & responding to genuine emails. Gmail came along and used technology to solve the problem, rescuing email and restoring it’s value… the problem with Facebook today is that it’s headed down the same path…
The root cause
We live in a world where we (at the very least) tolerate advertising and marketing online, provided we know who it’s from and can see that it’s not trying to mislead us. Most of us understand that without it, many of the sites and applications we love would cease to exist. Let’s get that on record…
If we ask ourselves what the definition of a social network is, it’s something like “a social structure made up of a set of social actors (such as individuals or organizations) and a set of the dyadic ties between these actors” (thanks wikipedia).
Going a bit deeper, this is the definition of ‘social’: “the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence, irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, and irrespective of whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary”
Bingo… that last bit is the kicker… “irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, and irrespective of whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary”. That’s the scary bit. The reason it’s scary is because that’s the way i feel Facebook is going… in fact it’s become the perfect definition of ‘social’. There’s lots of stuff we knowingly participate in and agree to and then there’s lots of stuff we’re exposed to and unknowingly participate in.
Do i want to see a sponsored story in my ‘news’ because some of my friends liked the brand behind it 6 months ago? Of course i don’t. That’s not how Facebook started out and not the place we used to know. My news feed had reached a stage of late where 100% of ‘news’ would either be sponsored ads or people promoting games or competitions run by brands. Much like email in the early 2000′s, i found myself sifting through lots of crap i didn’t want to see. The time spent sifting was greater than the value i got from it, so i decided to manually hide all brands from my facebook feed (hundreds of them) over the course of a few days.
Now, my facebook feed is filled with nothing but ‘posts’ from real people (no brands). The result? It’s a better experience and i spend less time looking at crap i don’t want to be exposed to. I spend less time on Facebook. The relative silence (in comparison to what it used to be like) *almost* tempts me in to posting something or adding content, because it feels more like ‘my’ social network composed of real people i know rather than a social network where brands dictate what i see and posts by individuals just get drowned out.
However, the problem now is people… people who share & like stuff to enter competitions pollute everyone else’s feed. So you still end up seeing quite a bit of promotional stuff. The solution to that? Remove people. But of course that’s an extreme measure and defeats the whole purpose of a social network in the first place… you could just hide content from them.
In any case the fact you have to spend so much time filtering and preventing this ‘spam’ is the reason why Facebook is losing value by the minute. It no longer knows or cares about what people really want to see and is directing people to a world where original content and participation in discussion isn’t encouraged.
No going back
I’m convinced it’s too late to reverse. Facebook can’t go back to basics because their share price hinges on selling ads to ‘targeted’ eyeballs and creating value for brands. More brands exposed to users = more money. Which is great for brands & better for Facebook, but ultimately driving users away in their droves. A radical change in direction without impacting bottom line would be impossible, so it won’t happen, even though it needs to happen sooner rather than later to save the social network from becoming a place people don’t want to visit or are reluctant to visit…
Hunting for ‘social’ quotes that i felt were appropriate to this topic i found this gem by a guy called Thomas Sowell:
“Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.”