As anyone who reads Newsome.Org, listens to our podcast, knows me in the real world or receives my ESP transmissions knows, I do not drink the Facebook cool aid. I’ve consistently found it to be restrictive, chaotic and generally uninteresting.
I also readily admit that I am apparently in the minority where Facebook is concerned. Millions of people and many of my (lower case) friends seem to live on Facebook, and they wouldn’t do that unless they were getting something out of it. I was talking to my buddy Taters at work today. He was telling me how much his (lower case) friends like Facebook. Taters is a young guy, so he and his crowd were a part of the target demographic before Facebook let all the geezers in. He’s not a Facebook user, but admits that at some point he’ll probably capitulate and join. Interestingly, he had never heard of Twitter.
Anyway, we were talking about Facebook, and I told him how non-intuitive I find the Facebook layout and navigation routines. He said while they may be confusing to old farts like me, they are second nature to the millions of kids who grew up in Facebook and made it the focal point of their online (at least) lives. To prove my point, I logged into Facebook for the first time in many months and started showing him all the things I don’t like about it.
Then something interesting happened.
I looked at my piled up list of (upper case) Friend requests. And right there at the top of the list were several of my old friends from my hometown and two of my best friends from college. Hmmm. Any of these folks could have (and may have) found me here via a Google search. But Facebook made it easy to reach out, and they did. So after dinner, I went back to my Facebook page, accepted some of the (upper case) Friend requests, updated my profile, imported my blog feed, Flickr photos and YouTube stuff, and actually traded messages with a few old friends. I saw some photos of my college roommate and his son. I even found a photo of my second grade class in a (upper and lower case) friend’s photo page. All of the sudden, I started to sense a lurking usefulness.
So I decided to take a look at the layout of the Facebook pages.
The Left Side
On the left hand side, you get a profile photo (I updated mine to my nifty new Newsome.Org logo, to match the walking billboard t-shirts I make my kids wear), a little blurb (I wrote “I still don’t get Facebook, but I’m trying…sort of”), pictures of your (upper case) Friends (Mike Miller has a funny picture) and whatever applications you elect to put there (I must have added some previously).
The third party Blip.fm app doesn’t work (surprise), so I need to remove it. I don’t remember what the FunSpace and SuperWall do, but they don’t appear to be all that fun or super. There’s something called Likeness over there. Mine has pictures of Ayelet Noff and Angelina Jolie, which certainly pretty-up my page, but I’m not sure what Likeness does. I decided to click on it and it presented me with a little quiz. After every question, it prompted me to invite/spam my (upper case) Friends to take the quiz. Lame. I never saw any results, but the fact that I wasted 3 minutes of my life on that quiz shows up at the top of my Facebook page. I bet all my (upper case) Friends will be really excited to learn that.
Also, why does “Relationship Status” assume such an important place in your “Information” box. I’ll tell you why, because for most of its life, Facebook was the playground for college kids on the prowl. Facebook needs a grownup makeover.
Basically, other than the pictures of my (upper case) Friends, nothing on the left side of the page interests me.
At the top of my page, there are tabs for:
Wall: this seems to be the stream of content I imported plus whatever else I do within the Facebook walls. The latter will be a short list.
Info: Here’s all my contact info, and school information. I like the way you can click on your school and year to find other Facebook users. Jeff Pulver is listed at the bottom of this page as “Other Public Figure.” OK.
Photos: I only have my nifty profile picture, but as noted above I saw some interesting photos on my (upper case) Friends’ pages. My photos will continue to reside on Flickr, however, and will only make it to Facebook if the importation feature works. Why can’t you automatically import your public Flickr photos to your Facebook Photos tab? I think I know why, and it has to do with keeping the walls intact.
Boxes: I have no earthly idea what this is. One little box says I am a “Rockstar Vampire.” That’s cool; I’d hate to be just a regular vampire.
The bottom line is that all of this may be the coolest stuff on the planet, but you sure can’t tell from an initial look or two. I find the Wall and Photos to be a little bit useful, but all that other stuff is noise.
Next, I waded into the “Home” page, where I can see information created by my (upper case) Friends. This seems interesting, though I imagine if you have a lot of (upper case) Friends, you could miss a lot of stuff from your (lower case) friends. One problem with Twitter is that you only see the information that’s posted shortly before you visit. I sense this stream of content would have a similar drawback. Still, Taters’ better half posted some hilarious photos that I can use to blackmail Taters, and I have already made contact with some old (lower case) friends.
But I keep wondering why I wouldn’t just subscribe to the RSS feeds of people I’m interested in, and read their content at my leisure? I can think of only one reason: they don’t have RSS feeds. Facebook is a nice, controlled environment where I can catch up with people who don’t have blogs and RSS feeds. But you have to wade through a lot of quicksand to get to the gold.
The Right Side
On the right side of my page, there’s a list of Applications, Pokes (that’s an interesting word) and “People You May Know.” It asks if I want to add Jason Calacanis and Jeff Jarvis as (upper case) Friends. Sure, I could add them, but the chances of them adding me back (which, in a good move by the developers, is required before users can access each others’ content) is somewhere between statistically impossible and absolute zero. Still, we are all long-time bloggers with some common interests, so maybe the algorithm works, even if it’s unintentionally funny.
Again, though, there’s nothing on that side of the page that grabs me.
My conclusions are that Facebook is a good tool to reconnect with old friends who don’t publish their content outside the Facebook walls. Sort of like a kinder, gentler Classmates.Com (no link love for that toll booth). I’d much rather subscribe to someone’s blog or Yahoo Pipes feed (here’s mine), but lots of people don’t have those feeds. There’s some good content and connections to be found on Facebook, though it is wrapped in an extremely inefficient package and may get lost amid the static. I’ll probably check my Facebook page periodically, but it will never be my preferred place to create or to access content.
It just happens to have a monopoly on access to some people I care about. So I guess whether I like it or not doesn’t really matter.