Facebook is killing itself. What was once an exciting hideout is being torn apart by news feeds, applications, and worst of all, parents.
It all begins
I kicked off my university’s version of Facebook back in 2005 when it was universities-only. I came across “The Facebook” (as it was at time) but SFU wasn’t in their list of schools. Back then they were added manually, so I put in a request to add my school, and soon I was in. It was in the same spirit as MySpace, but so much better because people didn’t have control over how their profiles looked. This may sound like a downside, unless you’ve seen MySpace. The Facebook was simple, clean, and it felt like a privilege to use. It focused on students, and so it could satisfy us.
A few months later came the groups with stupid names - for example you could be part of “you know youre from Canada when…!” There was soon a lot of growth, with people adding you that you barely knew. Then the News Feed appeared - now every change you made or action you did was broadcast to all your friends. This was somewhat disconcerting when it was your 10 close University friends, but becomes a much bigger problem later in our journey.
In September ‘06 they set us up the bomb: now anybody could now make a Facebook account. This sounds like a good thing - we all have friends who aren’t in university, so shouldn’t they be on our Facebook? The problem is that this killed the feeling of a community where everyone was on the same page. These new invaders couldn’t all be trusted to use it responsibly, nor to see your personal information.
When this happened, people all said we’d ignore it unless our parents joined. Shortly later, our parents joined. Shortly later, people removed the worst of their drunken party photos. Shortly later, they realized Facebook is no longer cool. There’s a New York Times story about this from the parent’s perspective, where she’s messaging her daughter:
Mom: “Be my friend” Daughter: “You won’t get away with this, everyone in the whole world thinks its super creepy when adults have facebooks.”
The fatal blow
Then in May came the Applications. The unwashed masses wanted fortune cookies and horoscopes and other useless bloat, so Facebook let developers create little addons for this sort of functionality. Worse than the destruction of the pristine profile pages is the “invitations”. Now you can invite people to add an application that you think they’d like. Unfortunately, people aren’t inviting their friends to applications they’d like; they’re inviting every friend to every application. About ten people have specifically requested me to add horoscopes to my profile. Augh! As evidence I present my “Requests” list after clearing it all 4 days ago - stop the madness!
You’re likely wondering why have 11 friend requests. I now leave some of these in limbo for various reasons. Sometimes it’s punishment for beating me up in elementary school - note to people: if you used to beat someone up, they’re probably not your friend. Sometimes it’s just because I really don’t know these people. In the early days adding someone as a friend wasn’t a big deal, but now it’s a huge commitment. Do I want a random acquaintance, Joey Durkins, to show up in my news feed, read my profile, and send me 10 Application Requests every week? No. But do I want to insult him by rejecting him? No. Therefore, Facebook has forced me to put Joey into limbo.
So now what?
If Facebook doesn’t do something incredible, it will be replaced by something more focused. This always happens with social websites. It happened with Slashdot->Digg->Reddit, and will happen with MySpace-> Facebook->MyFace. Paul Graham joked about a version of Facebook for Universities, but it’s pretty much inevitable. If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.