“Did you see it?”
“The picture that I posted”
“An hour ago.”
“Hmm. Nothing shows up in my feed”
Conversations like these are becoming quite frequent in my home, where Facebook can be accessed 24/7 through 2 separate computers. Most of the time they (and their respective owners) operate from a shared desk. Which makes such moments hilariously awkward, since we often realize that if something is truly important, we could have chosen direct communication, instead of a post on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.
But of course such an idea misses the big picture, none of us puts pictures on those social services just because we want to share them with our own household. We also want to reach our families, friends and other people, with which we love to interact.
What’s really alarming in such cases is not the vision of a common Borg-like collective in the near future but the palpable feeling that someone, for whatever reason, is messing up with your information stream and the fact that you can’t fully predict the consequences or completely understand the logic behind it adds an extra layer of creepiness to the sweet cherry pie.
Some uncomfortable questions spring to mind: How many people weren’t actually able see what you shared? How many settings do you have to switch on or off to make sure you have increased your visibility to the max? What red buttons should you press to make sure you see everything shared by your friends and never miss a beat? And last but not least, why doesn’t everything just work as you expect it?
The Social Networking Jungle
You can attribute this mess to Facebook’s notorious dynamism but let’s not kid ourselves. If things were so simple, Facebook would be a moon in the Disney Universe, right next to planet Cinderella and the Red Riding Hood Asteroid Belt. But those of you who don’t think Mark Zuckerberg comes from Krypton and have been on Facebook for a while, may have observed the evolution of the service from something used to connect people to a walled garden where you need a loudspeaker just to get the attention of your friends.
Twitter has similar problems with visibility but when you open your newsfeed there, things have a (chrono)logical order. If you follow a lot of people who post frequently, you naturally assume you won’t be able to always keep up with every single update. Respectively, you assume that your own updates may share the same fate. But there’s no extra factors in between. Twitter (or any other of the major social networks) doesn’t try to curate your stream and guess what is more likely to be important for you and what should be simply pushed back, or in the worst cases, completely discarded.
You may certainly end up frustrated if you miss something important but you will immediately find a solution, either by trimming the number of the people you follow or by organizing your sources in lists. Granted, it may take a lot of time and requires a lot of brain power. In other words, no different than real life.
But let’s assume you’re lazy, entitled and spoiled or you just don’t have a PhD in social networking, which is fine. I’m not trying to demonize information curating. Google does it with its search and it works well. Facebook does it all the time with the billions of posts it distributes every minute but the catch here is that the majority of users don’t have a clue how it works and I’m not talking about some painstaking specifics or obscure algorithms.
The Facebook settings are so opaque and change so frequently that few other than the most devoted fanboys know exactly where to click to activate or deactivate an option. It has been like that for years and there’s no end in sight, which is why it’s so hard to explain this messiness with the company’s dynamism. Your average hotel maid is also highly dynamic but she somehow manages to clean your room without reshuffling the furniture every morning or gluing your bed to the ceiling.
How Creating Confusion Can Be a Profitable Business Model
Every honest politician would confirm (forgive the oxymoron) that confusion is an element of power. Facebook doesn’t seem even a bit bothered about the fact that you can’t find your way in its internal labyrinth. It knows very well that your disorientation won’t trigger a revolt, it will simply give way to apathy, freeing your reptilian mind to do what it does best – relentlessly feeding its ego with clicks of attention. If power is an aphrodisiac, vanity is its love potion and I have a feeling someone in Facebook has already written a poem about it.
And once it has put your mind to sleep and unleashed the basic urges of you ego, Facebook will start charging. Confused over the visibility of your posts? Sure, ask your friends to make you a priority. Too shy to ask? Well, you can pay us and we will disregard their own settings and show them whatever bullshit you want. Just pay us.
This option is not a diabolical fit of my imagination, it is already live and it was rolled out in such a smart way that most people still don’t know it’s there to begin with. Facebook first introduced it for their Pages, claiming that they are trying to reduce the clutter with which brands clog our newsfeeds. Fair enough. Page owners (like me) we a little bit frustrated but it made sense to those of us who are running a business oriented page. I have even taken advantage of the option and paid for promoted posts.
But like it usually happens, the awkwardness was just around the corner. A few weeks later, Facebook enabled this option for personal accounts as well. Millions of egos in the world got a pre-orgasmic gasp when the tempting “Promote” link appeared on the bottom of each of their super important posts. Those who complained against this diabolic plan were quickly snubbed by the critics, who claimed that Facebook still offered you complete control over your setting, provided you negotiated the right conditions with your friends and followers, like marking people as “close friends” etc.
Again, the awkwardness is just around the corner. Apparently Facebook can alter your choices from time to time, issuing easy to miss one-time notifications about the permanent changes, for example “Notifications from X sources are off because you haven’t used them recently! You can turn them back on (link)” If you fail to take action the moment you see this notification, you will never know who those sources were. And there’s plenty of situations, in which you would prefer to delay making such a decision.
If you can follow suit with this without complaining of intrusion, I can assume you either work at Facebook or you’re someone who simply enjoys wasting his life making his Facebook profile a priority over everything else. The rest of us have better stuff to do.
Fighting Spam by Charging for Email
Remember when Facebook tried to reinvent email? That was fun. It simply added a rudimentary email option in its messaging service and for a while it was cool because it promised to strip human interaction of the last vestiges of formality: those hated distractions like the emial subject line and the “Dear Mister X,” and “Best regards!” lines at the end of each message. As it became clear that people didn’t use it as expected and even worse, some were simply refusing to open up their message boxes to anyone beyond their friends, Facebook decided to remove the available restrictions altogether and just like any other email, to force you to receive a message from anybody who sends it to [email protected]
That made sense. But even in this case, awkwardness was just around the corner. Instead of delivering the messages in a single inbox, Facebook quietly designated a barely visible folder called… “Other”. How many people know about it? I opened it today for the first time and there were 3 messages inside. I didn’t receive any notifications they were there, even one-time snippets, saying “You have new messages in your… Other!” Nada.
And this is how Facebook intends to fight spam, by simply discarding every message which doesn’t come from your contact list. I know what you’re thinking, how come Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo never came up with such ingenious solution. Well, the answer is a bit complicated because the solution is actually… retarded and would have killed any of those services soon after its implementation. Facebook may get away with it. After all, there aren’t many people using it for email.
But Facebook masterminds apparently think otherwise. Locked in their Ivory tower, they seem to have devised an even bolder plan, which was revealed today by Mashable and is been currently tested in the US. The plan consists of charging people who are not your contacts for the privilege to send a message to you “Inbox”. If you don’t pay, Facebook kindly informs you that it will end up in your… “Other”.
It’s a sort of admission on Facebook’s side that their service sucks but the funny part ends when they ask you to cover the expenses. And in case you want to message a VIP, they will strip search you for money. Currently, during the testing of the payment option, sending a message to Mark Zuckerberg will cost you 100$.
And that’s how I know those guys are on crack. I’m just considering how to break the news to their parents.