March 17th 2009 Facebook, My Favorite Mistake

Facebook aficionados will know that once again, Facebook has changed. Although complaining about Facebook is currently in vogue, and I usually try to avoid doing anything popular (lest I be described as “cool”), I agree that the new changes to Facebook are confusing at best. Status messages are basically gone, replaced with a general, Twitter-like message that is essentially written into the news feeds of all your friends (or something like that). So now Facebook has just become a community of Twats.

When I signed up in September 2004, Facebook was pretty simple. You got a profile page that listed your biographical data, interests, and other errata that no one else cared about, and you got one and only one photo: your profile pic. Oh, and you got a wall, which was a place for friends to leave evidence of how drunk they got the night before. There was no history, and people were free to erase the messages of others to make room for their own. It was basically a form of digital graffiti (or a digital Wild West, if you prefer cowboy-themed metaphors).

In those days, there were only two really fun things to do on Facebook. You could search for other people with the same interests. Back then, though, you only searched for people within your own school, so instead of getting back 900,000 search results, you only got back five or ten. You could also visualize your friends. This feature was probably gone by the end of my freshman year of college, but it was one of my favorites. With the click of a button, Facebook would build an SVG graph of all your friends, showing you the relationships between all of them.

Oh, and classes. Back then, you could enter your classes on your profile, and then generate a webpage listing everyone who was in your class. I was disappointed when Facebook removed this feature. I guess they spun it off into a separate application when the Facebook platform was released, but virtually no one uses that app.

Facebook was fun, and even useful on occasion. There wasn’t really anything to do on the site (it was, as its name suggested, just a glorified facebook), but I liked it that way. When Facebook added the ability to upload photos, I knew that it had begun its downward slide from “frivolous novelty” to “serious business”.

At first, photos were great. Because users were segregated by school, Facebook was a very open community. Almost everyone had a completely open profile, which made it easy to look up someone at your school to see if she was a total babe. But then, Facebook allowed high school students, and then everyone, to join (well, not everyone: you have to have an email address, so those ageist bastards won’t let my 96-year-old grandmother on Facebook). Those changes really altered the nature of Facebook: they required a new security model, and with the influx of the general public, everyone began locking down their profiles. The cherished openness of Facebook was gone for good.

After that came a flurry of changes, many of them useless: status messages (a giant “WTF?”), notes (just microblogs in disguise), the news feed (an Orwellian way to stalk people), and, of course, the infamous Facebook platform, which brought with it an influx of third-party apps that’s still causing Facebook fits. And now, even more complications: in the redesigned news feed, I can’t easily distinguish the difference between status updates, wall posts, $1 intangible gift exchanges, or application notices. Maybe I’m not supposed to.

Facebook has grown into such a monstrosity that I almost wish I didn’t have a Facebook account. And yet, it makes it so easy to keep in touch with friends, which makes me think that they should change the name to Double-Edged Sword. I suppose joining Facebook is my favorite mistake of all time.