I joined Facebook when it was still open to just college students. I was happy when it finally opened its walled garden to anyone – it allowed me to connect with friends who didn't go to school and, eventually, with family members. I've used the social network a lot over the years, and I still check it every day to see what my high school friends, college buddies and families are up to. I've seen posts highlighting the birth of friends, and those that brought gloomy news of death. I love how it makes me feel connected, even to those who are thousands of miles away.
As Facebook has moved to support "Pages" of independent businesses and into the world of advertising, however, it has become less of a joy and more of a complete headache to use. It's terribly frustrating, too, because like Twitter, it's one of the most powerful tools of our generation.
I understand Facebook has to make money. When it became a public company on May 18th it became very apparent that the social network needed to show its investors that it had a revenue stream and that it was a profitable company. Cash is made by selling a product and ultimately Facebook needed to figure out what it could sell. The answer of course is advertisements.
Facebook knows everything about its users. It knows our birthdates, where we live, our interests and who we're friends with. It can use that information to target advertisements at users – and that's very valuable for anyone interested in buying space on the social network. If Ford knows you're 16 and are looking for a new car, that's incredibly valuable information.
But it's those ads and recommendations that are making the service more and more like the jumbled mess we once called MySpace.
If you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, you probably know I'm a big fan of the shoe company Vans. You might also know that I like Nixon watches or that I travel several times per year. Facebook should know all of those facts; I've published several posts on all each topic. But instead, I'm treated to advertisements for iOS applications I've never heard of (and have no interest in). Or, I'm told that my friend likes MasterCard, Lays Potato Chips and Urban Daddy. Does Facebook ultimately think that I'm going to go open up a MasterCard account just because Joe Schmoe happened to "Like" the page? Am I going to go buy a bag of Lays potato chips? (I get that visual cues may somehow sneak into my brain and, down the road, push me to lean towards buying Lays the next time I'm choosing between an apple and chips at Subway, but I'm sick of seeing information I don't care about.) Here are a few other examples of pages I might like: Kirin USA, The Official GMAT Exam and Cabot – The Best Cheddar on the Block.
MySpace ultimately met its demise, I'd argue, because it was loaded with garbage. There were flashy .gif images on every page, it was loaded with spam and, ultimately, Facebook was cleaner and easier to use. Now, Facebook is becoming that same garbage pit. Instead of seeing siren.gif on every page, we're greeted to "so and so likes Nike" and "You might like Spam."
Is there a solution? I hope so, because I still like using Facebook and, even though I'm writing this lengthy rant, I probably won't delete my account anytime soon. I'd like to see the company innovate on the advertising front, instead of sticking to the same strategy websites have used for years. I've stressed that location based ads could be very valuable – I'd love to know if there was a sale on Vans a few blocks away, for example, and if it alerted me on my phone of the news. It tried to do something similar with Gap and other partners, but eventually shut it down, and I'm not sure why.
Facebook said in October that it now has more than 1 billion monthly active users. That's incredible, and rants like my own aren't going to slow down that growth. But when a product or service stops being useful and enjoyable, and instead takes off on its own tracks, users are going to ultimately walk away.