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Facebook is the Internet’s largest social network, and one of the largest sites on the web, period. It’s also a newly public company, the source of much press and government attention, and the focus of ire from many, many users. In fact, Facebook is one of those tech companies we love to hate – we all use it, and we all complain about it while doing so.
What is it about Facebook that we find so annoying? And are those gripes justified? For many of us, it’s definitely a love/hate relationship – as you’ll likely agree.
It’s a Big Waste of Time
One of the big beefs about Facebook is that it’s such a time waster. I mean, you assemble a list of a few hundred of your closest friends and then feel compelled to check in several times a day just to see what everyone’s up to. It’s quite time-consuming to scroll through that ever-lengthening news feed. Who has the time?
Well, most of us must, because most of us do. I know a lot of folks complain about how much time they spend on the Facebook site, but I never see anyone forcing them to do so. The minutes and hours you spend on Facebook each day are yours to spend as you wish; if you choose to waste so much time on Facebook, I think that says more about you than it does about the social network.
That said, there is something vaguely compelling, ne addictive, about listening in on the private lives of others. You get to see what your friends are doing today, what they’re thinking, what they’re happy about and what’s pissing them off, without actually having to personally interact with any of them. It’s quite voyeuristic and acceptably so. It’s the online equivalent of peeking in your neighbors’ windows, except you won’t get arrested for it.
Not that you really want to know everything that everyone’s doing or thinking. I can’t tell you how many so-called friends feel compelled to tell me what a lousy day they’re having (just like the one yesterday, in most cases) and what they’re having for dinner and where they’re spending the weekend and how great their kids are doing in school this year and why their boss really sucks and how their car isn’t running right and – well, stop me now before my head explodes. But the meaningless drivel that users choose to share really isn’t the fault of Facebook the company; Facebook may enable this self-centered spewing, but it doesn’t create a single vacuous status update. And it’s easy enough for you to defriend or just ignore anything you don’t want to see.
In fact, Facebook should be commended for creating what is essentially an alternative operating environment to Microsoft’s monolithic Windows. Many users stay in Facebook 24/7 and do everything from the Facebook site – send messages, post photos, play games, you name it. Who needs the Windows desktop when you have Facebook?
(And can you blame the company for trying to snag more and more of your online time? The more time you spend onsite, the more likely you’ll be to click on ones of those ads that supply the company with its billion-dollar revenue.)
Still, viewing Facebook as a forum for meaningless crap is fair. If Facebook didn’t exist, where would we share all the cute pictures of our dogs and cats?
They Keep Changing Things
Perhaps the most common beef I hear from the rank and file is that Facebook keeps changing things. Just when I get used to doing things this way, the grievance goes, they up and change it. And I hate change!
This is a fair and expected criticism, and one that that every company with a large number of customers can expect. The company, Facebook in this instance (but it could just as easily be Microsoft or Google – they face the same issue), wants to keep improving the user experience, making things easier to use, adding new features, keeping things from looking stale. But when you have 900 million users, changing any given item on the site is going to piss somebody off. People get used to things the way they are, and any change is annoying. It doesn’t matter if the change is for the better, it’s still forcing people to change their established routine. And people do not like changing their established routines. Not at all.
The latest (and loudest) Facebook complaints are about the new timeline feature, which has replaced the traditional personal profile page. Never mind that the old profile page looked like it was designed by a first-year accountant, or maybe a committee of accountants; the new timeline is something different that takes people getting used to. I happen to think the timeline is a huge improvement over the old profile page, but admit it comes with a slight learning curve. Is it worth the change? Facebook obviously thinks so.
(I will, however, bow to the somewhat more justified complaints companies and celebrities have about being forced to adopt the timeline for their promotional Facebook pages. The timeline format provides much less opportunity for customization and branding, and presents the company or celebrity not much differently than a common Facebook citizen. If I were a celebrity with a Facebook presence, I’d prefer the old profile pages, too.)
When it comes to change of this type, Facebook is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they don’t constantly improve the site, someone new will come along and do the social networking thing better; at the very least, users will start getting bored and dropping off the site. Facebook has to keep improving their offerings to hold onto their customer base, even if those improvements annoy some of those existing customers. It’s the same challenge Microsoft faces with its Windows operating system, and Google faces with its search engine – how do you add new things without pissing off the old customers? I sympathize with Facebook on this one.
It’s the Privacy, Damnit
Timeline changes may be the public’s big pet peeve, but privacy issues are probably a more legitimate concern about Facebook today. Users and privacy groups alike are justified in worrying about just how much private information Facebook shares about its users with other companies – and that its users share about themselves.
Let’s start with Facebook using and sharing more user information that it should. It’s true; just by tracking user behavior on the site, Facebook knows a lot about its 900 million users. How it uses that information fuels some big-time privacy concerns.
The reality is that any company that knows as much about you as Facebook does – the people you associate with, the companies you like, even the comments you make – can be dangerous. The concerns about Facebook abusing the privacy of its members may be justified.
It’s not just Facebook sharing your private information, however. Too many users accept Facebook’s default privacy settings and essentially share everything they post with everyone on the site. That’s dumb, and it’s correctable – again, by finding and configuring the right privacy setting, even if it’s just on a post-by-post basis. But too many users accept the default “everything’s public” setting (it’s in Facebook’s best interest for users to share as much information as possible – it is a social network, after all), and end up making too much private information public. The fix is as simple as flipping the right switch on the site, or just being a bit more discreet about what you post, but it’s still a major issue.
It’s Too Controlling
As much private information that Facebook makes public, you might be surprised about the concerns that Facebook is too controlling about what gets posted on its site. In reality, Facebook’s history is litered with seemingly constant censorship controversies; there’s a lot, it turns out, that Facebook doesn’t want users to post.
For example, if you try to post a tasteful photo of your wife breastfeeding your newborn, expect Facebook to delete it. In fact, post just about anything that might possibly offend anyone, and if someone complains about it (which people are wont to do), Facebook will remove it. It’s essentially crowdsourced content filtering, and Facebook defaults to removing the content without actually evaluating it.
As you might suspect, this annoys the hell (wait – should I say “heck?”) out of some posters. It’s not a matter of Facebook having content standards; that’s within their purveyance. It’s more a matter of defaulting to the prudes and the complainers without even giving the offending parties a chance to explain what the content is really about. Guilty until proven innocent, in other words.
The Stock Price Sucks
Since Facebook went public on May 18, 2012, investors have had another beef with the company – the stock price sucks. Facebook opened high and closed lower, and since then stock performance has gotten only worse. As of August 3, 2012, Facebook’s stock has lost 45% of its value, falling to just $21 from its opening of $38. If you’ve invested any bucks in Facebook stock, it’s likely you’re somewhat disappointed in this performance. (Okay, maybe “disappointed” isn’t the right word; “royally pissed” might be a better descriptor.)
Why is Facebook stock dropping faster than the number of MySpace users? There are a number of factors.
Facebook execs would like you to believe it’s because they’re focusing on the long term instead of short-term performance, and there’s something to that. Wall Street is always focused on the current quarter, and Mark Zuckerberg and his gang don’t roll that way.
But it’s more than that. Probably the biggest problem is that more and more users are accessing Facebook via mobile devices, and Facebook doesn’t have a good track record selling mobile ads. (It doesn’t have that great a record selling web-based ads that actually work, either – which is also part of the problem.) As Facebook becomes more of a mobile platform than a computer one, they’re going to have to figure out how to make money from mobile users. Right now, they really haven’t, and that has investors spooked.
It’s also possible that Facebook took too long to go public, and thus issued stock at the highest point on the curve. That is, the IPO represented the apex of the company’s growth, and there was nowhere to go but down from there. There may be something to it; no company can grow forever, no matter how hot a rocketship it was at one point in time. Let’s face it; Facebook may have peaked.
But Is It as Bad as All That?
Put all the gripes and grievances together and you have a pretty damning list of why a lot of people love to hate Facebook. Still and all, this may just come with the territory; everybody loved Facebook when it was a smaller, more exciting company. Now Facebook is both bigger and more established; it’s part of the problem, not part of the solution. Let’s face it, once your parents and grandparents start using something, it’s no longer hip – and Facebook has become a part of the establishment.
The size thing is also a factor. We all love up and coming companies; we love to root for the underdog. But Facebook is the underdog no more, and thus it’s okay to root against them. I’m not sure we have an up-and-coming competitor to root for as yet (Google+ will never seem like an underdog, even though it really is), but rest assured, some new tech company will come along that catches our fancy and will eventually supplant Facebook, if not in the marketplace itself, in our hearts and minds.
Until then, Facebook is what we have, and what we have to live with. There’s really no comparable alternative to switch to; yes, Pinterest is getting a lot of attention, but it’s not really a replacement for Facebook, just a supplemental service. No, one of the big reasons we love to hate Facebook is because it has us by the short hairs – we really can’t leave, no matter how frustrated we get.
Some of those frustrations are justified, no denying it, but some are just signs of our relation with the site maturing. Yes, we used to love Facebook, but that love has waned over the years. Now we love to hate it, and that’s okay. That’s the way some relationships go.
So we’ll live with Facebook until something better comes along – and complain every step of the way. I’m not sure all the bile is justified, but it certainly gives us all something to unite against. And that’s building an online community of quite a different sort.