I can get in touch with someone on Facebook instantaneously, without having to know their email or phone number.
I can publicly engage with people I’ve never met on Twitter, just because I’m interested in what they’re talking about.
One network is chock full of family and friends from the last 10 years or so. The other is chock full of people I respect, often based purely on what they have to say in 140-character snippets.
They’re both highly important parts of my online experience. And they’ve both lost the plot completely, thanks to massive ambitions and lazy revenue strategies to help them get there.
Facebook’s Use Case: Keep in Touch
On a trip for a family wedding, my wife and I were able to have breakfast with some family members we don’t get to see very often. It was a truly joyful experience, where everyone wanted to hear what was going on with everyone else. We were happy to be the youngest people at the table by a generation, because it meant there was plenty to talk about.
And you know what happened when someone else started sharing a story? They broke out Facebook. Tablets and phones went flying as everyone pulled up the pictures and statuses from their story so everyone could see what they were talking about. It was like everyone had a real photo album that they kept on hand just in case they got to tell the story. They zipped around on the interface, obviously learned from repetition.
And someone asked us, “Can you please post on Facebook more? That’s how we keep up with you.”
Facebook has become my online identity. Nominal privacy issues aside, I couldn’t be more happy about that. Honestly. They did it. They’ve become the nearly ubiquitous online identity. Not just ubiquitous in tech circles, either.
And that’s not important because of some analytics metric. It’s important because it means my family can see what we’re up to and talk to each other. Because I can share links with a group of friends and discuss it. Because my condo community can have a truly useful Group where I learn my neighbors. Because I can connect so easily with people I want to be in touch with.
I don’t think that’s an uncommon “use case”. I think connection and community are at the core of any positive sentiment towards Facebook (beyond games—let’s not go there).
Facebook’s Ambition: Global Dial Tone
Yet, Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the dial tone of the internet.
Don’t get me wrong—that’s actually pretty admirable, in my opinion. I want to see this level of connection and community be brought to other countries who haven’t experienced this renaissance of connectivity. I want them to be able to share with their relatives and distant friends as well.
So, what needs to happen to get Facebook there? They need a constant stream of revenue. They need to keep shareholders happy. They need to sell ads.
So, our News Feed is completely jacked. Pages’ organic reach is plummeting. Ads are often awkward or irrelevant.
And you can say it’s not about selling ads, but when your own presented solutions in the same article are literally all about buying ads, I stay a little skeptical. Forgive me.
Just. Charge. Money.
All the while, users ages 65 and over grew by a whopping 35% last year. That’s their fastest growing demographic. And the interface is still cluttered, bombarded with banner ads and sponsored News Feed items, in tiny fonts and tiny buttons. A beautiful design, even if it focused entirely on Baby Boomers and seniors, would benefit everyone—a redesigned experience of Facebook that focuses on community and connection.
Not everyone would pay for Facebook, but I posture that many, many people would. I would. I would pay $10-20/month just to keep the same level of access. And you don’t think the older generations would, when they’ve been joining in droves? You wouldn’t pay a little for something that was truly useful (again)?
This is really less a criticism of Facebook, and more a lament that things could be so much better with a shift in focus. Monthly payments for a certain level of access, combined with more expensive, less intrusive business advertisements, would seem to move things in the right direction.
I wish Facebook the best as a business. I hope everyone at the company becomes or continues to be super wealthy and fulfilled. But the social network that’s managed to connect so much of the world in a way older generations now rely on, that really drove social logins, that bought Oculus Rift—that company has the chance to continue to do so much more meaningful innovation.
Human beings will be able connect with one another with ease from anywhere in the world on any device using Facebook.
I’m just worried that it will be completely unusable by the time we get there.