15.5.10

Facebook is Toast


I got off Facebook in 2009.  I am smiling as others publicly proclaim their freedom from, or their disappointment with, the (still growing) superorganism.

Facebook is currently facing a barrage of negative feedback about its privacy policies and methods (and now it's IPO). Yes, these are valid criticisms, but they are not Facebook's achilles heel. They have a bigger problem.

It is the structure of Facebook that foretells it a fate of AOL -- a popular online site in the 1990s that grew quickly, and also failed quickly. Back then, AOL was also supposed to be the "new internet", just as some are predicting now that Facebook will be the new WWW.

Facebook, and most other social networking sites are structured wrong! They are places where we have to go to connect and communicate. That is not how we naturally connect and interact as humans! Their technology does not support our natural and inherent sociology. Yes, we meet people in places and on specific sites, but once established, relationships exist without borders, walls, time and place.  We live person-to-person, not person-to-site-to-person.  The site is just an unnecessary intermediary most of the time.

Is Facebook a "land-line" in a mobile world?

The telephone land line and the old Ma Bell is good metaphor for the future of Facebook. With a land line you had to be "in a place" to receive a call -- at home, or at your desk at work. If you were not there you missed the contact and you probably did not know you missed it until you returned to the place. Messages, voice mail, beepers and other technology tried to fix the problem, but it persisted. Ma Bell owned all of the switchboards and had centralized control/ownership of the network. Facebook also has centralized control/ownership of the data base of social connections/objects -- the social graph. One source shopping -- take it or leave it.  Landlines are hub-and-spoke (a.k.a. hierarchy), while mobile is peer-to-peer.


All your social graphs are belong to us[sic].

Our personal networks, as a whole, are not centralized in once place, they are distributed as we are, wherever we are. Mobile technology allows the call, the connection, to go where we are -- the device is always with us. We can make an immediate decision if, and how, we will take the connection. If we decide not to, we know right away that an attempt has been made and from whom. This is how we naturally network -- we decide on the fly, who to talk to, in what voice, and how much to share. I may deal you differently tomorrow than today depending upon the current context. Mobile technology also breaks up the centralized data base of connections and objects and allows for a distributed model. We each have our data, but we share a common protocol [PTTP? = person to person transfer protocol].

I am talking about a NON site-based social network!

Putting Facebook on mobile devices does not solve the problem -- it is like adding "speed dial" or "call forwarding" to your home phone. Facebook does not allow for natural flexibility of human interaction, you and your relationships are ossified in their computer code and in their data base. In a truly networked world we do not have to go anywhere to connect to others -- we just ping from where we are at, and wait for the response from where they are at -- peer to peer without going through Queen Between (Ma Bell/Facebook).

Facebook is still as popular as sliced bread, but many people are seeing it in a new, unflattering way. They have stopped blindly trusting Facebook. The digerati will leave first, and then the later adopters -- leaving the AOL crowd behind.

Update: So, what I am suggesting is space instead of place. In space you have no definite location/place, you only positioned in relation to everyone else in the space. You are located by who you are connected to, it's all relative. Quantum Physics explains this with atomic particles. We need to understand this with social entities also.

Update2: Another good analogy for current social networks are the email systems of the early internet — they could not talk to each other. You had to join each system to be able to receive/send information with everyone you knew. Once SMTP came into play the walls between the systems fell down. You could now have one email identity and connect with any other identity -- regardless of place/membership. What is the SMTP for online social networks? Webfinger may be a promising technology for un-siloing our on-line social networks.


25 comments:

Anonymous said...

And this new technology of which you speak - it exists?

Beausox said...

Interesting post and I agree with your argument that GOING to any given site will become obsolete; but tell me why you believe the mobile version of Facebook or Twitter, for that matter, doesn't give us our cake and let you eat it too?

olimould said...

I'm glad that other, more eminent network thinkers than myself are singing the same tune as me! Your metaphor of landline technology is slightly more apt than mine of Jurassic Park, but the idea is the same!

Jeff Hershberger said...

I think you have the kernel of a good argument here. It could probably stand to be expanded upon. But what does the picture represent? Are the blue nodes Facebook Apps, like the Feed, Chat, and Messaging?

Heidi said...

Valdis, this gets to the heart of an idea many have hoped for, that we could each have 1 central gateway/personal identifier that we could use to communicate with each other and follow conversations in multiple spaces. I'm not sure how such a thing would be structured, but we've seen hints of it with OpenId, Google Profiles, gravatars, Disqus, etc. And of course Facebook, Google and others would like to control such things, for example by encouraging developers to use things like Facebook connect to login to non FB sites. But Facebook even more than others really seems to be working to keep the conversation on Facebook, where the conversations really don't flow so easily. Twitter on the other hand, with the open API has allowed developers, to build on the power of Twitter by creating tools such as Tweetchat that allow us to interact in other ways. It's not perfect either but it does seem to evolve more freely in response to user needs.

I think many of us who stay on Facebook do it for only 1 reason. It's the place where most of the people are. We know the system is broken. Currently people are worried about privacy, but the user interface and functionality have also been a problem for a long time. In general the system just doesn't work very well. But folks put up with it because that is where their friends/clients or whomever may be.

The ideal will happen when we don't have to go to a specific place to find our people but can instead connect with the people we want in any space.

herestomwiththeweather said...

the facebook anti-pattern!

M1 said...

I see Facebook more as a phone catalogue and as such it at times also acts as the Yellow Pages. As FB is now dimensioned, I believe such an analogy holds somewhat more weight than that of the coppar wire network. Sure, it aggregates content around user defined clusters (ie friends), but more importantly it increasingly (as it has grown) provides a go-to-first datapool for finding folks. After the initial 'find' contact can be administered in many a way--including ways where FB remains a hum. All this of course, imho.

ben said...

I tweeted that, as former Telco "plant tech" (which included baby-sitting 1 4,300mile microwave link for NORAD/SAC), I disagree strongly with that simile.

I find the metaphor painfully mixed. If we were on first name basis (Hi, I'm @bentrem *grin*) I'd say "mangled".

What part of landline has ever been as jumbled / anarchic ("chaos" is too nearly a compliment) as FB?
I mean it.

You want to nail a connect? Pick up a phone. Send an image. Send a fax. Connect your mainframe. dial-tone clickity.clickety.click ring *HeyPresto*

What you want is what you get = landline.
w/respect: Would you say that about FB?

Shirley, stop pulling my leg.

ChrisFizik said...

not quite getting this thing about the land line. I by no means am a fan of FB. But Facebook is changing all the time. Isn't the whole 'like button' thing being on every external website a step away from your perception of us having to 'go' to it? It is a race now to become more intertwined with the fabric of the web itself. Having access on mobile phones is a rudimentary convenience -- think a bit longer term, where all I need running on my phone is a facebook connected suite of apps. (this freaks me out, but just sayin...). The more seamless it becomes with everyday web use, no, COMPUTER use, the more it is here to stay. I just don't see the avg idiot user leaving it now for awhile.

David said...

Heidi, I am trying to visualize what the space would be like where we could meet and follow threads and yet not be in someone else's (i.e. FB etc.) meeting place.

In my mind's eye I can see spheres in space linking like Venn diagrams but then I hear that whooshing sound of the fourth dimension and I realize I will probably not be the one to program this new world.

ben said...

@David - Possible parallel / resonance here.
With what you wrote in mind, what came to mind was something I wrote to Steve Gillmor in GBuzz, chatting about how old "lame" ideas are.

====
"Part of my glasperlenspiel project applies to time-line of concepts / notions / memes. Problem? Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

I dis-solve it by treating the "entity" as though a strange attractor. No single point ... just a cloud, each particle having a trajectory that can be mapped / graphed. And lordie lordie ain't it fun to do that?

/me flashes back to keying in code for Mandelbrot microscope on C=64
====

@bentrem

Heidi said...

David, I can't conjure up such a non-space either. Your wooshing of the 4th dimension puts me in mind of Madeleine L'Engle's tesseract from "A wrinkle in time." Tools like DVR and podcasts allow us to timeshift content...meaning I can listen to a radio show at my convenience, rather than the schedule, but I'm not sure how we "place-shift" content. And in the virtual gateway of the Web I'm not sure that "place-shift" is even the correct verbiage, but I like the idea that we could follow our conversations more easily from place to place as with Valid's cell phone metaphor. Here you and I've conversed from Twitter to Valdis' blog and back, and we've conversed also on FB and other spaces, but the conversation always begins in some fixed internet space whether that be my blog, your blog, Valdis' blog or a social media service.

So I'm not sure how we can be independent of these tools, unless we had something like friend feeds (as opposed to FriendFeed which was something of a start) in which we subscribed to each other in a way that would give us access to all the conversations in a way where we could also so easily respond.

robinteractive said...

E-mail and social networks are converging (this will likely explode in 2010), and a variety of tools exist to merge these. And these tools are beginning to hit the mainstream (Outlook 2010, Yahoo, perhaps Hotmail with tomorrow's revision... all are pulling in social network information.)

Increasingly gone are the days of needing to log in to Facebook to see the news feed, post status updates, etc.

I'm not saying there won't be a revolt against Facebook (time will tell), but it isn't the walled garden it was even a year ago. In that respect, the analogy breaks down.

CLRobertson said...

The problem is that any "site" could fit the description of what you just said.

Twitter, AIM, IRC, MySpace, Ning, GoogleBuzz, Facebook...they all suffer from being an "HTTP://" that you still have to direct your computer to.

I would put to you that the problem is not how Facebook is structured, but that the (much, much bigger) problem is how the INTERNET is structured.

ben said...

@CLRobertson - Your "you still have to direct your computer to" is, indeed, key.
"Pull" technology, rather than push.

You really want push? Really/truly? (spider PubSubHubbub for how convoluted this becomes. also: anybody remember the early Push project by Netscape?)

Pull was a major design decision. Major.

Bertil Hatt said...

Funny you should say that — I was under the impression that Facebook was actually really good at handling how to make updates relevant to users (thanks to their pioneering work on the NewsFeed), but had to face discrepancies between people assumption about who would be interested, and who was actually stalking.

If you look at structural aspects of Facebook (testing clusters thanks to their triangle-closing suggestion, context filtering) they aren't that good, but they are getting there — unless I have a special account.

Blaine said...

Bang on. Webfingerwebfingerwebfinger.

The missing bit is identity for people. How do you say where your stuff is? On the internet, we don't have phone numbers, and HTTP URLs "fucking suck" as memorable identifiers for people.

Webfingerwebfingerwebfinger.

It's a shit name, but the concept is essential.

Vince Kuraitis said...

Valdis,

...you raise valid points but I don't think your conclusion is correct.

Yes, when people are face-to-face they naturally connect and interact as humans.

When not face-to-face, we need some kind of structure to facilitate communication... and Facebook is providing that structure.

Think of Facebook as an app with the Internet as the platform.

Whether or not its Facebook, you still need some kind of app (structure) when not face to face.

As a business model, Facebook has strong network effect in a winner take all (or most) type of market. Challenging them will be difficult.

Yes, they have a walled garden business model, but the walls are reasonably permeable as they have opened their API for developers.

The business challenge is for Facebook to find "optimal" openness: open enough that people use FB platform/apps, closed enough that people must still use them as gateway.

Yes, the Internet is an open platform, but without some type of app to facilitate communication its TOO open.

james.bedell said...

The reason people engage in facebook is because it's a reminder of those we are connected with, however loosely. The reason we find status updates and photo uploads interesting isn't because they are valuable in and of themselves, it's because taken in total they remind us of who we think about and care about.

The open system you described already exists...it's called email. No matter where I am or where I am I can ping anyone in my address book an email they recieve it and ping back...we can include as many other people as we like, no destination, no uniform code to adhere to...

People use email every single day to stay connected...probably more effectively than FB. Yet FB remains popular...why? Because people have a limited amount of time to stay connected these days...and what once was a personal letter (snail mail) became a phone call then became an email, then became a comment on someone's status.

FB isn't the new landline...(which has endured in popularity for about a century) it's benefit is that it tells me who to remember to connect to...

AOL never did that.

james.bedell said...

The reason people engage in facebook is because it's a reminder of those we are connected with, however loosely. The reason we find status updates and photo uploads interesting isn't because they are valuable in and of themselves, it's because taken in total they remind us of who we think about and care about.

The open system you described already exists...it's called email. No matter where I am or where I am I can ping anyone in my address book an email they recieve it and ping back...we can include as many other people as we like, no destination, no uniform code to adhere to...

People use email every single day to stay connected...probably more effectively than FB. Yet FB remains popular...why? Because people have a limited amount of time to stay connected these days...and what once was a personal letter (snail mail) became a phone call then became an email, then became a comment on someone's status.

FB isn't the new landline...(which has endured in popularity for about a century) it's benefit is that it tells me who to remember to connect to...

AOL never did that.

Will said...

Hi, Valdis. Someone at Facebook must have read this post: http://www.facebook.com/places/

What are your thoughts on this?

BTW, mightn't AOL's failure have something to do with Time Warner as well?

ottonomy said...

"Facebook is a landline" works to suggest a possible evolution to me. As people moved to cell phones, they were still able to contact their landlocked buddies right in that system. Their cell phone could call right into the landline, and the landline could call right to the cell phone. The next step in the social network will be able to interact with those who are still landlocked, or it will be (too) hard to achieve critical mass.

I think that if a distributed project like Diaspora* is to be a success, it will have to be able to access the facebook feed as well as friends on their own Diaspora* nodes and mesh it all together.

blog said...

I think the SMTP glue for Social Networks is (again) SMTP. I read once (but forget where) that prior to the Internet the BBS were isolated islands that got connected via SMTP.

The same for today: I get a message on LinkedIn and in my mailbox a mail arrives to inform me. I get a direct message in Twitter and a new mail arrives. I am sure that applications exist that mail back to me references of my twitter handle if I wish. I suspect similar things about Facebook, but have never had an account over there.

Over at twitter we discussed the possibility that mobile phones and SMS might be that glue. Mobile phones are powerful devices. They are also IP enabled devices. Unfortunately they do not yet speak IP to their base station. Once they start doing that (and the day will come) SMS -texting to be more precice- will be implemented over IP and the easiest way to do so is to do it over SMTP: a very simple and well understood protocol.

The glue is again SMTP.

Gordon Rae said...

The SMTP equivalent you're looking for is OStatus, a protocol that lets people on different social networks follow each other. Here's a good introduction to Ostatus by Evan Prodmorou.

There are many open source projects aimed at creating open alternatives to Facebook. Not all of them use OStatus but it's attracting plenty of support. Here's an overview of some projects The Diaspora project, which has attracted plenty of media attention and investment (and shipped its first code release on Sept. 15th) uses OStatus.

tahoeblue said...

Valdis,

Those are good observations and metaphors. I would suggest that the basic problem has been in the willingness of individuals to offer up their identities and information to a central service like Facebook in exchange for a 'deal with the devil' in order to see that of others. This has led to the perversion is which our personal information is thought to be *owned* by the central switch.

In order to disrupt this model, it will be necessary for individuals to be able to turn the paradigm on its head -- i.e., charge social networks for the use of personal information, not the other way around.

The Internet informational counterpart to the space-is-the-place (thank you, Sun Ra) mobile phone metaphor is, I would submit, everyone having their own personal website/blog/server (even if it were virtual or in the 'cloud'). Connections would be peer-to-peer, not hub-and-spoke, and each individual would be in charge of permissions, authorizations, disclosures, public-vs-private, postings, etc.

There have been some initiatives in this direction, but the mass and inertia of existing social network infrastructure (not to mention the free abandonment of one's personal information, to recall Zuckerberg's famous early log file quote when asked why the Harvard dorm residents did so ! ) means that in order to do so will take the equivalent of a political revolution.

Stay tuned, it may happen !