My Vision of the Future and Facebook: A Ramble, not a Rant


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or you’re not on Facebook, which some people think is tantamount to the same thing), you’ve noticed that Facebook has changed in the past week. It’s made some fairly radical changes (and even more are in store), moving from a fairly static page that updated when you told it to into a free flowing page that seems to update at will (and randomly).

I personally love the new direction, but abhor the lack of organization. (Maybe that’s the librarian in me coming out.) To me, it would be fairly straightforward to fix: let the users determine who they want to have the most updates from and how. And bring some method to the madness. Before, I could know with a fair amount of certainty that I was seeing all the updates from my friends that I wanted to see, since I could view all the updates in chronological order. But Facebook has now taken that chronological order and removed the “logical” part of it. Updates are scattered over the page in four different areas: recent stories, top stories, other recent stories, and the latest updates. To make things even more confusing, it’s now showing me practically all the activities of all of my friends.

Now, I’m not one of the people heading for the pitchforks and torches. I’m willing to give Facebook some time to iron this out, and in their defense, it’s gotten a bit better over the past few days. It’s hard to get such a big change right all at once. (And since I don’t pay anything for Facebook, I can’t very well demand better service. What’s the alternative? Google+? Please. That place is still snoresville every time I remember that I really ought to poke my nose in to see if anyone’s actually using it yet.)

One of the reasons Twitter’s interface works so well is that as a user I have control and knowledge over what exactly I’m looking at. I get a chronological feed of Tweets from the people I follow, and Twitter lets me know when I have new Tweets waiting. I click a button, and it’s clear what’s new and what’s not. Easy. Simple. Nice. If I want to have smaller groups of friends I follow, I can easily set up lists to corral similar friends into categories of my choosing, and then the updates of those lists work the same way as the rest of the site. So it’s really customizable, but also simple.

So why isn’t Facebook like that?

Well, some of it might be due to the vision that Facebook has of the future. I think they’ve been doing a crappy job of explaining it, so allow me to give it a whirl. Picture a world where you can hang out with your friends regardless of where you live. If I want to sit in my living room in Maine and play board games with my buddies in Utah while listening to the same music or watching a TV show together, I can. I can go online and see someone’s there waiting for me, and I can be chatting with them, and channel surfing at the same time, each of us making snarky remarks on what we’re watching–together. At the same time.

I want that future.

Facebook wants it, too. Of course, I want it because it’s cool, and Facebook wants it because it would  make a lot of money off the process. That’s a key difference, and it has to be noted. But still, if I can get that future, and it comes via Facebook, I’m okay with that.

But how do we get from here to there?

Facebook’s approach right now is to jam it down our throats, whether we want it or not. It’s the brute force method. It has almost a billion members, and Zuckerberg’s decided to go all in on that vision, with Facebook leading the way on a road paved with the gold earned from data mining its user base. Listen to a song on Spotify? Your friends will know. Watch a movie on Netflix? Your friends will know. Check out a story on CNN? Your friends will know.

Um . . . can we say “creepy”? Maybe I don’t want you all knowing that I watched 15 episodes of Strawberry Shortcake yesterday. Or that I have a penchant for listening to Eminem when I think no one’s watching. Or that I habitually read ever news article about goat cheese. (Only one of those statements is true, by the way.) Why doesn’t Facebook just let me post updates when I . . . you know . . . actually want people to read those updates? (You can stop Facebook from tracking your every internet step, BTW. Here’s how.)

I think it’s because Facebook’s worried it’ll be sort of like Google+  It’s an excellent idea, but until people start actually using it, then what’s the point? In my vision of the future, it all falls apart if every time I go to hang out with my friends, no one’s there. Not because none of us are there, but because none of us are actively sharing and saying “I’m here!”

Catch-22. Chicken and the egg. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a problem, but it’s only a problem getting there. If we’re in a spot where we all know that everyone can share whatever he or she wants whenever he or she wants, then we get to a point where enough people are using that service (online, ready to hang) that when YOU are ready to hang, you can go and find some of your friends who want to hang, too.

Make sense?

And this is ignoring other nasty little roadblocks between me and my vision of the future. Roadblocks like copyright law that’s dated and a legal system that can’t keep up with how it pays itself, let alone how to handle the ever shifting realm of technology.

And have you heard about Facebook’s next step in its plan: the timeline? Picture a profile page that represents all your actions, from birth to death. Needless to say, there are some concerns about this change, too. I’ve already signed up for the beta. Hopefully my profile page gets it soon, and I can evaluate it.

Because like it or not, the future is here. The rate of change is increasing all the time. Gone are the days when you can lean back and feel comfortable that you’re On Top of Things for the next decade or so. Life as we know it will be different a year from now, and drastically different in five years, and unimaginable in a decade. I really believe this, and I think history backs me up.

This makes me excited, even though I also understand why it scares some people (or even terrifies them). What do you think? Chime in!

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