Has Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg been driven mad by envy? In his effort to redesign his social network in the image of Twitter, he may well end up destroying everything good about it, users say.
Valleywag alumnus Paul Boutin, now writing in the New York Times, dismisses the complaints as "inevitable" gripes from people who don't like change. That may have been true for Facebook's substantial revamp last fall, which smartly cribbed some elements from Twitter. But as people get used to the latest changes, they're starting to realize that this redesign is simply, objectively bad.
Facebook actually introduced status updates before Twitter even launched, a fact few people now remember among the wave of Twitter hype. But the sites have long differed in their presentation of updates. Twitter shows all your friends' updates in an undifferentiated fashion; try to go back more than an hour or two, and you get lost in the noise. Until now, an algorithm has ruled Facebook's presentation of updates, so only the most interesting bits show up on a user's "news feed"; not all updates show up, but the vital ones do.
The redesign replaced the feed on Facebook's homepage with a complete stream of all friends' updates — all the noise of Twitter, but without its simplicity. One annoyance: You can no longer delete status updates from your homepage. Instead, you have to go through an elaborate workaround.
Facebook's algorithmic best-of selections, meanwhile, have been shunted over to a right-hand column which users can't control. That's leading to all kinds of hilarity, a tipster reports:
A woman complained about not being able to delete things from the "highlights" sidebar because a friend is also friends with her ex-husband. The friend tagged the ex in a photo and I guess the photo was popular enough to wind up in the ex-wife's highlights sidebar. So now every time she signs on, there's a photo of her ex-husband waiting to greet her. Awesome!
Another person complained about the same highlights sidebar because several friends had joined a group that uses an X-rated photo for its logo. Having several friends join a group apparently puts the group and its logo in the highlights. She is now greeted with said explicit photo every time she signs on, with no way to get rid of it.
Among the many worthless apps on FB, there is one called "big wet boobs." As I said in my last email, whenever people send virtual stuff to each other, each "gift" shows up one right after the other on your home page. So this person now has dozens and dozens of entries showing "Bob sent so-and-so Big Wet Boobs." (This one in particular sent me into fits of giggles.)
This redesign, in short, promises to be the kind of nightmare presented by Facebook's debacular Beacon ads, which exposed users' purchases to friends willy-nilly before an embarrassed Zuckerberg nixed them.
Facebook's strength has always been its filters — the ability to get a picture of what your friends are up to without being drowned in updates. Zuckerberg has thrown his 175 million users into the deep end of the pool, with the thought that the masses are like him and his friends — omnivorous consumers of momentary trivia. There's a reason why Facebook has more than 175 million users and Twitter a mere 6 million: Because Facebook has offered a better product than Twitter.
Has, past tense. Facebook snuck up behind MySpace and zoomed past it; it is now almost twice the size of the struggling News Corp. property. Zuckerberg appears to be worried Twitter will do the same. Certainly there are Twitter fanatics telling him he's missing the boat, 140 characters at a time, all day long. And Zuckerberg is right to be paranoid. But there's a reason why paranoia is classified as insanity.