Monday, June 21, 2010

How Facebook is Losing Me

I was an early adopter. I joined The Facebook, as it was then called, shortly after I got to OU, around a year after the popular networking site launched. I enjoyed it, a lot. In the last several months, though, I’ve noticed a pretty striking change: when I want to connect with others socially online, Facebook may still be my default, but it’s no longer fun.

When I joined Facebook, it was limited to college students, and served exactly one purpose: connecting with other college students. Slowly but surely, Facebook has transformed from that simple concept to a behemoth that now hosts more social profiles than any other single site in the world. “Friend” is now a verb as surely as “Google” is. There has been a lot of good along the way; I have never been one of the naysayers who joined yet another “Million Strong Against Facebook Update X” groups. To be frank, I always found the hysteria a bit silly.

Today, I finally understood why Facebook has stopped being fun, though, and I understand a little more what those people were always on about (even if the changes did not, ultimately, drive away the masses or bring about the predicted end of the [social networking] world). Facebook changed its premise.

Somewhere over the last three or four years, Facebook stopping being primarily a place to talk to other people and started being a place to share content. There is nothing inherently wrong with that shift, but it explains a lot, I think. For example, if you look at the history of my wall conversations, they’ve dropped radically over the course of the last two years. There are a few other factors influencing that (getting married and joining the “real world” being prime movers here), but I don’t think it a coincidence that those two years have also been the years in which Facebook has expanded or introduced a wide array of ways to share information. (I have noticed the same trend on other friends’ walls in the same period of time.)

Pictures, videos, blog posts (in the form of “notes”) and an endless list of applications now dominate the scene on Facebook. I find myself far more likely to “like” someone’s insightful note or even a comment on someone’s wall than I am to comment myself, much less just drop a note on someone’s wall. Most of the conversations I have are not social but centered on ideas or media. This is a fairly radical change from the Facebook I joined. I used to have huge conversations back and forth with people via our walls; messages were second-level conversations for things that could only be said in private. Now, if I want to actually let people know anything important, I immediately jump to a message—the wall is so cluttered with other things that it’s useless.

Though it is only today that this broader picture came into focus, it has been increasingly clear for quite some time. I recently chose to start using Facebook primarily as a place of sharing media—not least because its utility for social connections was dropping so much. It is now essentially a bigger, bulkier, less-pleasant version of Twitter for me: a source of not-so-brief snippets of people’s lives, mingled with a flood of reports about games, quizzes, and media. The deluge obscures the very people I want to connect with.

Am I going to leave Facebook? Probably not, at least anytime soon. Am I using it less and less as a means to connect to others? Absolutely, and I cannot see that trajectory changing anytime soon. Facebook is fine for what it is—but unfortunately, it is no longer what I enjoyed so much when I joined. It is a smorgasbord with everything anyone could ever want... except a simple place to connect with friends.

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