Without communication, the concept of a social media networking platform does not exist.
The interaction between users and the mutual exchange of ideas is the basis for any successful social network.
Right now, Facebook, or rather some very fundamental systems of Facebook, are failing because they do not fulfil these requirements.
It is the Timeline and the Profile posting feature that are the most flawed systems.
By giving users the ability to write microblog posts on their profile, they are isolating the user from the network.
The user will expect some form of mutual exchange of ideas with his network, but this will often not occur because:
- Liking a post is an one way form of communication. It is only a very limited way to respond, without really responding to a post.
- Comments to posts are a form of communication, which do not feel mutual because user B, who is responding, is giving more value to user A, who posted, than what user A is giving to user B. Especially if the post is something that concerns and relates only to user A. The only way communication via posts on profile walls can feel reciprocal, is if the user A goes to the other persons profile and responds to some post user B made on their own wall. This is a very tedious procedure and not user friendly.
- The system has become inflated. With so many users on the friend-lists of people, it has become impossible to keep up with everyone’s posts through the use of the time-line. If a person has 1000 friends, 1000 liked pages and is subscribed to various groups, the time-line can by no means show everyone’s posts, especially if every user, page, group makes a new post at least 5 times a day. That makes roughly 10.500 posts per day. A system that cannot cope with the increased numbers of users, including profiles, pages, groups etc, has already failed. Especially when it has no other way of finding posts and people, like an advanced search system. People do not see the posts that really interest them and the algorithms that determine what is shown on the time-line often make things worse. For example by showing birthday comments, a few days after the actual birthday. Users will not be able to keep up with everyone’s posts and while everyone is waiting for everyone else to notice their posts, inevitably, everyone will be disappointed and frustrated by the lack of interaction and meaningful communication.
- People are interested in mutual, reciprocal and equal communication. By promoting posts on profile walls, the system encourages people to try and promote themselves, their own interests, ideas and images, over those of their network. Thus nullifying the mutual, reciprocal and equal attributes that should be included in all forms of successful communication. Bottom line: nobody cares what you had for dinner, unless they belong to your closest circle of friends or family. Chances are that on your friend-list, you have people you have never met, seen nor know. 99% of them, don’t care about what you do or think, unless you happen to express a brilliant idea that will change the course of human history. People are interested in posts that give value to them and not to the person who posted them. The only way to achieve some form of increased interaction, is to make it about other people and not about you.
- The trend to share links to websites, youtube videos etc gives the opportunity to share news in a fast way but it reduces the user who sends them to a mere agent of those websites. It makes the user appear without original identity. Whenever a post does not include an original thought or remark by the poster, it will rarely invoke responses and direct communication. While it may be fun showing people what we find interesting, it again serves only the poster and not the people who may no be interested in that type of news, music etc. And communication dies again.
- Unfollow for the win. We all have done it. We just want to see essential and interesting posts and when someone becomes annoying, mainly through over-sharing, we unfollow them. After unfollowing more than 80% of your facebook-friends though, the timeline just keeps showing the same posts, regardless how many times you reload it. That is a very boring sight. Sometimes people go through phases where they post relentlessly about a subject, the subject may be uninteresting and thus we unfollow them. This way we are going to miss that one important update when it is going to happen. This is not the fault of the user who over-shares, it is the fault of the entire system of Facebook that allows this to occur. Because it aims at quantity and not quality of communication.
- Aggressive advertising. As the years pass, Facebook introduces more aggressive forms of advertising through its website. At first it was ads on the sideline, then it was ads between posts, then in videos and now between private messages. This kind of excessive advertising creates a chaotic user interface that becomes tiresome and unpleasant.
- Complexity is the enemy of communication. Advertisements, along with new features that are periodically being tested and implemented on Facebook make the whole platform unnecessarily complex. By adding “stories” they may have attempted to solve the issue of lack of meaningful communication, but stories only add to the problem, by adding one more way to post self-centered messages. As long as they do eliminate the problem from its root, adding more features only adds to the complexity and frustration that the users feel. Time is nowadays more important than ever, and people will not waste it by trying to dig out the important information. They need to have an interface that will provide instant, meaningful and important communication.
- The friend-lists are not relevant and the lack of anonymity is to blame. By forcing people to use their real name, they have to accept most friend requests as a form of acknowledging people in their broader social, professional and cultural network, and not people with whom they really have common interests. This creates pretentious circles of friends and does not really connect people, who have (or can develop) real bonds of friendship. By not allowing people to search for others according to interests, this encourages that the friend-lists are kept within those above mentioned boundaries (cultural, geographical, professional etc) and limits the ways people have to make meaningful new friendships.
If we compare Facebook to one of the very first social media of the internet, the Yahoo Profiles and Messenger, we will see how the much simpler and primitive Yahoo network offered much more meaningful opportunities for communication and for meeting people with the same interests. The profiles of Yahoo, did not include microblogging, they were only a means of introducing oneself. Profiles were linked to lists of interests that each user put in their profile. This made it so much easier to browse through profiles that had the same interests and thus make new friends who wanted to discuss the same ideas. The profiles were linked to the Yahoo messenger and were anonymous. That actually gave everyone an additional level of security and did not expose everyone’s identity to stalkers and potentially dangerous people.
Another problem that surfaces on Facebook is the fact that it thinks it has to do something for it’s users. Social media are a lot like adventure games, you have to let the user play the game and not keep them occupied with long sceneries of unnecessary dialogue. You need to give them control of the game of communication and not bombard them with unwanted and irrelevant features. Because eventually, they will get bored and will leave.
Among all those problems is also the issue of privacy, tracking and surveillance. An issue that is extremely important but that I have not addressed here as it does not directly affect communication. It is disturbing the fact that Facebook stores all private data, from private messages to photographs for ever. It is also disturbing the fact that it has often proven inadequate in protecting those. By creating data tanks, there will eventually be leaks.
The only system in Facebook that is partly successful and is expanding is the one that Facebook has not been messing with, nor promoting: the Groups. Right now only groups are offering users to come together in a place where they are all equal and can meet people with the same interests. Pages are more or less a failure, unless they belong to big organizations or unique celebrities, but even then, people have become tired of the frequent and superficial posts. People now are moving on in search of more meaningful communication to places like groups.
If I were to imagine or request for a perfect social media network, it would be one that is based in Europe, that respects it’s users privacy rights and the fundamental human need for meaningful communication, without over-commercializing it. Seriously Europe, where is your own social media platform?