Facebook Is Awesome. Facebook Is Awful.

April 17, 2011

As a publisher, I love Facebook. We post teasers for stories from CSJ and RVJ to Facebook and they bring in almost 10% of our pageviews. But as an average web consumer, I’m losing interest in Facebook. Worse yet, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to notice the trend.

Do you have more than 200 Facebook friends? Does the vast majority of your wall feed come from a select group of political-types and daily exhibitionists? If so, it becomes exhausting to scroll through the predictable daily dross from these people. You can block them, but you usually still end up with the most exhibitionist (and usually boring) people on your friend list.

Facebook designed its wall to be this way with EdgeRank, the wall algorithm that emphasizes how long you’ve been friends with someone, how often you message them and how many times you’ve commented on their stuff. EdgeRank naturally binds you closer to the people with whom you interact while crowding out those you don’t.

Trouble is, I want Facebook to surprise me. I want to know more about my far-flung friends, not the ones I interact with every day.

The solution is to beat EdgeRank by seeking out the profiles your neglected friends and to comment on their posts. But that takes a concerted effort. Wouldn’t it be easier and more friendly for me to just send these people an email to ask how they’re doing?

For those of us with lots of friends (I have 700+, but I know plenty of people with 2,000+) Facebook has also lost its intimacy. When you have so many people following you, who are you really sharing the news about your distressing and sleep-depriving IBS problem? Probably an overshare with most of the world, but if it’s keeping you awake at night and interrupting your work day, don’t you want sympathy from your real, true friends?

Facebook isn’t really the place for real intimacy, is it?

Sure, it’s possible to create specific groups of friends, and you can manage which posts go to which groups, but that’s a lot of work. And can you really keep it straight all the time? And man, it seems like Facebook keeps changing the rules, doesn’t it?

It’s simpler to just skip the whole thing and just not share.

Instead, the news we do get about our friends on Facebook are closely-monitored vacation photos, tales of 5 year-olds barfing, rants about the President’s policies and random non-sequitur ponderings. We get to hear that people are alive and doing things, but we’re not really learning anything about them.

It’s this/close to useless junk. “I really should block that person out,” we say to ourselves, “But if I block them, they might find out and that would hurt my relationship.” So instead we’re force-fed a daily litany of superficial status updates from people we already hear from too much.

I wish I could figure out a way to make it stop.