Ever since Facebook woke up and started a series of relatively major changes to its user interface, I’ve been finding it frustrating to use.
I’m not alone of course - many people have said the same. I’m not from the “all change is bad” school of thought, so it wasn’t just that a few buttons had moved around - which seems to be the gist of most of the criticism I’ve seen and heard.
For some reason, I just started to enjoy using Facebook less. The stuff it showed me seemed less relevant, and I felt less engaged.
I’ve been puzzling for a while about why exactly this is, and I’ve come up with a theory. I think that Facebook broke for me at the point at which they started heavily pushing linked content over original content.
What I mean by this is the point at which Facebook started showing you the content of a link that a friend posted, rather than just the link.
Facebook really has never been the place that I go to for interesting links to other content on the internet. I use RSS feeds and Twitter for that.
For sure, Facebook friends would occasionally post an interesting url, but I was always free to ignore the link, and would generally do so unless the friend also included a description - generally in their own words - about why I might be interested in the link.
The majority of Facebook content used to be my friends, talking about my friends. As it turns out, that’s what I’m interested in.
Friends talking about themselves gives me a sense of connection with people who’s lives may have diverged greatly from my own since we first met, and who I may not have seen physically for years.
There’s a touch of voyeurism perhaps, but far more I think a sense of a relaxed, extended community based on shared experiences.
In addition to this, having friends talking in this way means that they are actually expressing themselves.
People’s characters are revealed in what they say, and how they say it. This can prompt fond memories of why you liked someone, or it can provoke wild revisions of opinion about someone (for good or ill).
Contrast this with Facebook now. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be “memes”.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional picture of an animal doing something cute, but I don’t want to see an endless succession of them.
Where once I could ignore the links, or my friends had to make a little pitch to me to get me to click, now I typically have the content of the link shoved down my throat whether I like it or not.
Worse, the vast majority of this content wasn’t made by my friends. It might in some broad sense reflect their sense of humour, or of politics, but it doesn’t really reflect them.
That sense of community that I used to genuinely cherish about Facebook seems to have been drowned under a sea of lolcats and amusing pictures posted by George Takei (why? I mean really, why George? What’s that all about?).
That, for me, is why Facebook is broken.
I’d love them to fix it. A big start would be just to give me the option to turn off the previewing of linked content. Come to think of it, maybe that option is there somewhere… there have been so many changes recently that I’m no longer sure.
I’ll think I’ll go and have a look.