I was using Facebook app on the iPhone today, trying to leave a message on a friend’s wall but I just had to stop and think for a while. I couldn’t complete this simple routine task because I couldn’t be sure I would be writing on my friend’s wall: the App was prompting me to post what was on my mind. Nothing new there. But I had ended on that form while reading postings on my friend’s wall, and I just wanted to contribute to that one. But I was not sure anymore if the App was broken, or if whatever I would be writing would appear as a “news item”, instead of a posting on this particular friend’s wall. How did it come to this?
I think Facebook has hit a rock here: I don’t see a semantic match between what is commonly referred to as news, and catching up with news about friends. I do realise that words have elastic meanings on many social media sites these days, the word friend clearly has all sorts of meanings and actually means nothing anymore. But when news about friends get mixed up with general news, then I find it harder to make out what is going on.
I did hear about F8, and all the changes being introduced, and what not. I am used to such big changes on Facebook, actually they seldom move me except when it appears that privacy is being cut further more. This time, I think there’s something wrong with what they are calling things on Facebook. It’s semantically wrong to treat any friend update as a news item. Here are the reasons that I see a semantic dissonance here:
- Facebook is hosting everything and anything: people, companies, charities, causes, shops, events, games, etc, the list is long. Any snippet of information about any one of these couldn’t be more different than the other.
- Facebook is streaming all posting to whomever care to listen, read or watch. That’s ok, so long as you know the context the information is broadcast on.
- Information about one’s friends tend to have more emotional appeal, you relate more strongly to those, you really do care – even if we’re talking about “elastic friendship” sometimes. It is more personal, that’s why you call them friends.
- However, information about what is going on in the economy, world politics, some technology or scientific matter, have wildly different impact on us. Sometimes it’s infuriating yet you feel powerless about it. Sometimes it’s exhilarating, funny or witty, sometimes exciting, sometimes educational. Whatever feeling this category of news item may cause, it is often with a fair bit of distance and quite impersonal.
- Here is the issue then: when you are about to post something personal, you don’t want it to be treated as if it were impersonal. That’s a blindspot that Facebook appears to have, it’d be worse if they intentionally did that. Imagine somebody saying: yeah, I am someone who really care, I care about anything and everything, everything is personal. I wonder how you would think about such a person.
I am not the biggest Facebook user out there, my visits to Facebook last on average 2 to 3 min. But when I come to the site I want to get something done quickly and move on – if you’re linked to me on Facebook then you probably know my son features on most of my postings there. For the first time I was hesitating because I couldn’t be sure what the site was trying to tell me.
News about friends is technically called news, but they are special and personal. News about other matters are also news, but they are impersonal, often distant, especially on the emotional side.
So I wonder if Facebook is trying to become more and more like Google, while at the same time actually, Google is trying to become more and more like Facebook. You read all sorts of articles matching those two up in a giant fight, but I think Facebook’s latest move is more confusing than Google’s.