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Once upon a time, there was a little Web 2.0 application called Facebook. It came out way back in April 2004 -- I know that, only because I think I was one of the first Northwestern kiddies to sign up for the Myspace look-alike. At least, I should be, as I'm a proud member of my alma mater's "Facebook member since the ground floor" facebook group.
We used to have a neat little database query engine called pH at Northwestern, which you could use to find the contact information for any University-affiliated person: professors, friends, that cute girl in class whose name you only know the first few letters of, et cetera. I say that in the past tense, because the coming of Facebook was The Terminator of the Web 2.0 universe. The service usurped pH within mere weeks, quickly becoming the de facto contact database for the greater Northwestern community. And man, those were the glory days.
What is Facebook now? It's Myspace without the seizure-inducing blinking backgrounds and crappy teenpop music. I've come to abhor the direction this once-great enterprise is headed. And it's not just the official Facebook developers who are to blame; it's y-o-u.
The success of Facebook has always be largely due to its clean, uniform design. Prior to the service's descent into utter lunacy, every person's profile page was identical. You could change the information, you could even toss in a hyperlink or two. But you couldn't adjust the page's contcnts around, nor could you add any useless (blinking) crap. And while I usually foam at the mouth when I can't tweak something to my preferred specifications and colors, I quickly began to appreciate the simplicity of Facebook's look.
And then Facebook introduced its developer platform.
In short, this allows anyone to create custom applications that introduce themselves into the Facebook architecture. Some are inherently helpful, like "My Flickr," which allows me to stick a display of the last x number of photos I upload to my Flickr account. There's also the Twitter application, accomplishing the same purpose as the Flickr application, but with text. Yes, you can even add daily images of adorable cats to your profile.
With the good comes the bad, however. Not a day goes by that I don't get bugged by some errant application that one of my 595 friends has decided to install. I've been offered the option to transform into a zombie; I've been bitten by a Facebook vampire; I've been asked to hang out at a virtual happy hour; I've been poked, hugged, and touched in all sorts of strange and interesting ways; I've become someone's top friend; I've been recruited to cyber-save Darfur; and I've been hit with a Harry Potter spell. Enough!
Yes, I'm sure there's a way I can turn off all these notifications via some fancy privacy setting in Facebook. But there's no way I can hand-of-god smite these off everyone else's profile. I just want information -- I want contact details, I want bands of interest, and I want witty wall commentary. I don't want to sift through 83 different, colorful, image-heavy applications full of useless junk just to do so.
Facebook has jumped the shark by allowing its users to have unfettered access to profile modification, and it's only a matter of time before the next great Web 2.0/3.0/whatever application comes along and starts chipping users away. Don't believe me? It's already happening. Myspace used to be the end-all-be-all of social networking sites, but its golden age has long since passed. According to comScore Media Metrix, Myspace is seeing 30% fewer visitors under the age of 18, whereas Facebook is nearly tripling. Prior to 2004, who would have ever thought that Myspace would be anything but the Web's best social network? And yet, here we are.
Mark my words, Facebook. The more you expand your service into these uncharted waters, the closer you'll sail near all the other decaying social networks of our time. Innovation is awesome, but not at the expense of the quality of the experience. Stop letting your users destroy your best features, and for the love of all that is holy, at least get them to stop inviting me into the application overload.