Why no Facebook?

Facebook started out as a super-useful online tool to satisfy a particular need. Way back when, it was the online version of something that existed offline: a way to find people who were all part of a specific community. The, “people,” was students and the, “community,” was at a particular school (Harvard).

This isn’t FB anymore. It has become something else:

  • Facebook is unmanageable. Through no fault of the creators, owners or staff of FB, it has become a gigantic, unmanageable jumbled mess of people. This is much to FB’s credit: so many people use it that they are no longer able to reasonably manage day-to-day community operations.
  • Facebook is authoritarian. To compensate for their inevitable overload, FB decided to become authoritarian. Authoritarian figures in a community — FB is the de facto community manager since they created the vehicle for the community to collaborate — need to earn respect, which FB never managed to do in so many of the communities that it now serves.
  • Facebook is generic. One-size-fits-all works sometimes and doesn’t work others. It doesn’t work for communities. While FB is a reasonable tool for collaboration in every community, it’s not a fantastic tool for collaboration in almost any community.
  • Facebook lumbers. Once again, through no fault of the staff who works on it, FB has become too big to serve its constituents. It started out nimble but FB can no longer keep up with technology. FB’s staff has made a heroic effort of trying and they’ve paved so many new roads in the world of online technology but at this point they’re rearranging chairs on a sinking ship.

Here’s a key case to outline what’s happened: imagine Wally, 23 years old who just graduated from his state school with a degree in South American literature. Wally wants to post some pictures of his friends out at the pub last night. While logged in, he joins a group of folks in his area who get together once a month to discuss literature. While reading some recent posts, he disagrees with a political opinion and writes a comment to the author. Wally’s next stop on the Internet is an online application for a grad program.

FB did its job: it hooked up Wally with this literature group that he would otherwise have had no access to. Unfortunately, it’s got no way to separate political discussion from a literature group (it is generic). The community of literature folks can’t bar the political discussion from literature discussions (it is unmanageable). Wally can’t separate his work profile from his personal profile because there’s no technology to do this, or even decide who sees what (it lumbers). When his grad school sees his drunken pub pictures and his differing political opinion, FB will silently deem that they’ve done their part correctly (it is authoritarian) and Wally’s application will be denied. No grad school for Wally.

This sort of scenario has happened too many times to count with consequences that are too severe. FB’s official stance is that they’re just the medium and they decide the rules. I’ve seen this happen too many times in too many ways, so I’ve decided to stop using FB.

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