If there’s one thing Star Wars Galaxies taught me, it’s why Facebook is the Jedi Knight of social networks. Which is to say, broken.
See, when I heard the first Star Wars-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game was starting up, I thought it would be awesome – even if I don’t play MMORPGs. (A game with no definable end point is a bad thing for a gaming-obsessed, job-holding weasel.) What I didn’t consider is that designing for one audience often means you alienate another.
Since Star Wars Galaxies was set before the original Star Wars, Jedi were a rare thing – after all, Luke hadn’t even heard of them. So you could become a Jedi, but only through an arcane method that few understood and even fewer had the time to level-grind to manage. Then, when you finally became a Jedi, the rewards were that people would start bounty-hunting you.
This was great from a flavor perspective, and certain gamers loved the challenge, but casual gamers got pissed off. Why do those dweebs get to be Jedi just because they have thirty hours a week to devote to this game? I can only play for an hour a night. Why am I paying my subscription fee to not be a Jedi?
What Star Wars Galaxies brought to the fore is that there were three separate audiences, none of whom could be satisfied simultaneously: the Star Wars nerds who wanted Jedi to be rare because that’s the way it was before the movies, the die-hard gamers who wanted “being a Jedi” to be the reward at the end of an impossible quest, and the casual games who wanted the Jedi-hood to be something they could do, quite literally, in their spare time.
It was a question of who you lopped off, really. Eventually, Galaxies just said “fuck it” and made Jedi into a starting profession. This made the guys who’d devoted months to their Jedi career unhappy – but at this point, the designers had discovered the Star Wars equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru, an unwinnable situation where no matter what their next move was, they’d pisse off a ton of fans.
By making one faction happy, they’d destroy the experience for someone else. That’s where Facebook is now.
I am a minority at Facebook. I know this. I have about 700 “friends,” many of whom I don’t know that well because I get around online a lot and people tend to friend me randomly.
The average Facebook user has about 130, and I’m willing to bet most of those friends are people they’ve met personally.
Furthermore, Facebook is clogged with work and old school friends, ex-girlfriends of friends of mine, and who the fuck is that guy anyway? Did I friend him on a drunken bender one night? His profile picture seems alien and scary, is he a serial killer? As such, I visit a lot, but mostly to see how people have responded to me. If I want to check in on my friends, I go to LJ or Twitter, with bouts of Google+.
(And with all that, I still have 100+ people I haven’t friended because I don’t know who they are. Dangers of being a D-list Internet celeb.)
So Facebook has this uphill climb because its hyper-aggro method networking everyone means it’s infested with all of these people I’m not particularly keen on in the first place. It’s like being at a party with that guy you hooked up with three years ago. Okay, you know him, but how much time did you really want to spend catching up?
Facebook seems to have recognized this, and has been slowly developing an algorithm that sorts out the most “important” posts. Except it’s completely broken. The algorithm seems weighted heavily towards likes and comments, which means the first thing that shows up on every Facebook home page viewing is some stupid cartoon that everyone thought was funny, or yet another article on the 99%.
Meanwhile, I’ve had not one, but three people undergo life-threatening surgery on my Facebook list, which I found out about through other means.
Furthermore, the people I interact with become this tightening circle of interaction. I respond to someone’s post because, miraculously, they had a personal experience that wound up at the top of my queue. Facebook goes, “Oh, you like them! Let’s show more of them!” So suddenly, my feed is infested by the same twelve people, and if you had a life-changing event and you’re not in my Facebook-culled Inner Circle, well, fuck you. You haven’t cracked the algorithm.
You might as well not exist as far as my Facebook world goes.
Meanwhile, the people I did interact with once thanks to Facebook’s algorithm become my BEST BUDS EVAR, where Facebook slavishly keeps showing me everything they did. Hey, Shirley watered her plants! You want to know about Shirley’s plants, right? Oh, and now she’s vacuuming! She took a photo of a sunset!
SHIRLEY YOU’RE NOT THAT INTERESTING.
Thing is, what Facebook’s designing Facebook for are its die-hard fans. They’re making it so that you never want to leave – so they’re flooding you with more information. Here’s a constant stream of your friends’ interactions! Here’s your chat bar! Here’s your reason to make this your home page, to constantly refresh the page and flood them with advertisement views! Why go anywhere?
That’s great. I bet if I was a college student with 120 friends, most of whom were family and my drinking buddies, this would be awesome. I’d constantly see what people I loved were up to, and I’d chat with them, and when they commented on someone’s post it would be news I wanted.
Problem is, that’s not who I am. I’m the guy who shows up twice a day and skims a friends list that is probably more cruft than content. And it does an awful, awful job at actually picking out the interesting facts at what these people are doing so I can get to know them better.
You know where I do get to know them better? Twitter. Straight-up Twitter, where I may miss something, but it’s all in chronological order and I see everyone in a nice, democratic fashion – you posted last? Well, here you are. Nice to read you.
I’m not at Facebook to collect clever demotivational posters or to play Farmville, which means that Facebook has become an unmanageable mess for me. I literally can’t use it. All it provides me with is crap.
Does that mean Facebook is bad? No. It means that for many kinds of people, I’m sure it works. But I’m an edge case – not a horrifically unusual edge case, one suspects, but still not the main audience – where Facebook breaks down. It’s an active annoyance to me. It’s like a annoying spammer I have to visit.
Yes, I could clean it up via filters and selective weighting, I know, but a page that I actually have to treat like a job is not a page I want to be a part of. I’m not here to be caretaker to my social network, I’m here to have it work.
I’m on the verge of declaring Facebook bankruptcy and just not visiting it any more. Why don’t I? My Mom’s there, and she reads my status updates to see how I’m doing.
See? it works for her.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.