Lately there is a great battle among social platforms that made Facebook and Google+ integrate new features, like subscribing, friends lists or enhanced places. This crazy run for social innovation can (?) only be for users’ interest (I feel more tired and unaware of features that Facebook launched once and a while, I am curious how casual users feel). Nevertheless, I believe we are moving away from the simplicity of the social web; what users still want to do is communicate easily with friends, even real-time when possible, while they want to control the visibility of their messages. What was the answer from Facebook? A default attachment setting for user location and a choice button to publish your message on public (with berried more “complex” rules!). And these messages that are now public are now available for subscriptions! Facebook is still the king, but it makes decisions that make platform more and more unpopular. Read my opinion why this happens.
“Come on Facebook! You can do it better, certainly simpler!!! Oh, I can now declare who is my best friend with a bookmark star?? Now may I have better and more targeted advertising?”
The user experience
I think the problem is users become lately less skeptical about rules, their messages’ visibility and their profile exposure on the social web. I can see users, who have “locked” every tiny information on the past through their privacy settings, to expose private discussions (like going for a coffee or drink) on their wall publicly!! I do not think that they recently appreciated the value of being “open to your network”…
Personally, just two weeks ago, I started removing some of the available information from my Facebook profile. I removed photos or statuses, even I deleted users (friends) I have not been in contact for more than 3 years. I feel Facebook does not respect me and my privacy, thus I try to narrow down my exposure to the absolutely necessary amount. I was surprised to see that my profile became more functional just the next day! I stopped receiving messages and photos from “partying”, “sunbathing” or “travelling abroad” people I have not contacted with since school graduation. I saw messages on the top of my feed from people who are more “important” to me, messages that I could not see in the past because of the “social noise“. With this term (social noise), I like to describe the “must-behave” rules of Facebook: Facebook is built on bidirectional connections, you have to accept friend requests if you do not want someone to get “mad with you”. Maybe every user in Facebook should own a Facebook Page, for their “fans” and “followers”, and keep only 120 connections (the magic number of social networks) with their real social network (surprisingly, the number of my friends is around 120 at the moment). Facebook was built on that way, it grew up with that feature, but now it is too old to change; you cannot renovate your structure with “subscribers”, “real friends” or “your city” stream categorization.
The developer experience
All these “complex” worries and thoughts made me return on my initial though: “what users want to do is communicate easily with friends, even real-time when possible, while they want to control the visibility of their messages.” Then I noticed that most users start chatting on their status. I noticed Facebook wants to fix their notification system that became a spamming engine. Skype (Beta) is open to Facebook chat and is ready to “embrace” Facebook friends on another platform… I think what users really need is to:
- communicate (chat, share photos, videos) with people they want
- expose this activity only to a group of people they want
- easily access their activities from every device (mobile, computer, web)
- do it real time
- keep a history of their activities to share with their network
…where Facebook as a platforms is ideal is at keeping a history of your activities. For any other interaction I feel I could naturally use other applications to engage my network (I want people to be free and talk without barriers) and share my deep thoughts; I have Skype, Whats App or Google Talk for that reason. When I want to reach more people, I just set up a group. Even an “old fashioned” email is more real time than Facebook, when using a smartphone, and can reach more people outside that silo.
People do not care any more if they use Facebook or another host, this is my personal feeling. Facebook carries their connections, it does it in a nice way, it is free and does not force them change their habits. Facebook is a software company with nice interface but strong and paramount hardware: users do not care about hardware, developers do not care about that either, as nobody has access on it (like Google App engine or Amazon Cloud).Facebook’s power comes from its subscribed users, the users it “owns” as long as it keeps them happy. But Facebook cannot “imprison” its users and their data, without letting them freely choose where to store their data. Google Search succeeded because users are convinced that it provides better search results than Bing or Yahoo! Search. Facebook cannot keep its users locked and just copy its competitors. At the end this become tiring. It is the easy path for the King, it is a company strategy, but it follows the wrong example of Microsoft: the company may be profitable, it is productive and useful on every-day and business life, but it is considered old-fashioned and “follower” in technological innovations.
Even if I did not realize the power and value of this article from the beginning, after a while it triggered a series of thoughts that made me work on a technology stack supported by W3C Federated Social Web. I feel that Facebook could innovate with technology, and start using protocols that enable real-time communication. “Innovation is coming from Standards” is a common motto, and Facebook tries to reinvent the wheel with its own API, technology stack and protocols. While they participate on ActivityStreams working group, they launch their Graph API. While there is XMPP for real time communication, or Websockets, they describe their own API. At least they are convinced that XMPP is perfect for chatting apps and embraced this protocol (a post describing the need of a “natively social” protocol for social applications – like XMPP- will follow). They seem to experiment with new interfaces and easily adapted technologies, but when everyone is talking about XMPP and how powerful can be, they do not seem to contribute with a Facebook project running on the sideway. They keep using HTTP, or they limit XMPP interfaces on Facebook Chat. Why did they hire then Lars Rasmussen from Google Wave project? The FSW community needs collaboration and clear thoughts towards an open social web.
Facebook is certainly not dying, but it raises protests and worries about its strategy. A German State banned Facebook Like button recently, France does not allow advertising Facebook or Twitter pages on TV or Radio broadcasts. Facebook has to reach perfection to be the king of Social Web and stop being another “social bully” that buys or copies its competitors. It has the “social capital” to survive from an open-data war and it definitely has the engineering capabilities to constantly innovate on new services and products for its customers. Facebook has to innovate by being open. It is one of the first platforms that raised the power of an application ecosystem with its API. I wait to see if Facebook is going to adapt on a new reality…
Tell me what you think!