Remember MySpace? Bunches of us joined up and created our own little virtual pads. Customizable, social networking, messaging: it was awesome!
And then came the customizations. The deluge of stupid messages. Uncontrolled filth and lameness. It made the site so unbearable that Facebook (FB) started looking attractive. Today MySpace has been relegated to mini sites for musicians who either can’t afford to create a decent site or… oh I don’t know, have a places for fans to add flair to to their own profiles?
I wanted to mention MySpace because I feel this is the direction FB is heading with its support of ads and applications. The uniform design of FB makes it hugely appealing in that I can traverse “friends” and everything will look fairly clean and conform to some semblance of order. That goes without saying, but lately I’ve become increasingly perturbed by the applications. I love social networking. I connect to my “friends” and get updates on what they’re doing. I connect to my favorite bands and get updates on new music.
Then there are those pesky apps. By design or by the owner’s choice I get spammed multiple times a day about some animal in this app or a new knight in another. Don’t get me started on the craptastic mini apps sharing the owner’s lucky number or whatever. But that isn’t even the worst of it. You see, we’re all in FB to social network. To keep up with one another. To communicate pseudo real time.
No, the insult to injury, the kick below the belt when I am down on the ground is the occasional messages broadcasting some request or plea in regards to one of these horribly annoying messages. “Hey anyone have a pink marshmallow? Please send it to me so I can complete my collection!!!!111 XOXO” Seriously? It’s a symptom of a bigger problem. People are now using FB as a platform to play games and do things that are annoying.
Oh, but isn’t that the point, you ask. It’s perfect, you say. They can network and chat about things while they are sharing their goals inside applications and games. Nope, you just messed up everything cool about FB. You see, I just blocked that person for life. I will never again see anything they say because they’ve just changed the nature of what FB means to me. Now FB has groups and lots of handy ways to make sure people broadcast to those using these applications but it’s too late. They don’t know how to use those features. And worse, I won’t know when they finally figure out to send their lame messages to only those interested in that.
It’s sad because now I have yet another person that I will never hear from again. No “Just paid off our car!” or “He left me…” updates. Nothing. Zip. Ever. Never mind that there are people that sit on their computers all day playing FB games and doing all those horribly lame applications. It’s taken me month to refine my FB profile to give me the updates from people I want to hear about and have no more applications give me a message that so and so’s unlucky number is 3.
And now for the ads. I can see the value of ads if they target you because you and all your friends like Beanie Babies and you get a Beanie Baby ad. Makes sense. Chance are you are more likely to check that out than an ad for an online auto parts shop (or is it?). You can close some ads, tell them to go away, but OMGWTF when I see an ad that says “Chuck Yeagar loves S&M gear from Hustler”. Does this mean that when I “like” McDonald’s all my friends are going to see “Michael likes to eat DBQs at the golden arches”. Wow, that’s intrusive. I have no control over how my profile and identity is used in advertising!
Suddenly now I find myself liking and unliking things not just if I like them but whether or not they will create ads for my so called friends. I like Zzounds or Johnny Cash. Will that create ads for all my contacts? Yes, maybe. Ok, I think I am ok with that. I like Peter Czernich or Martin Perreault. Will my contacts see ads for all the latest latex fashions now? Am I ok with that? Well, for my personal contacts sure but employers? You know the drill. Rather than worrying about this I should just not share anything.
So we’ve just defeated another aspect of FB. Their terms of service (ToS) makes it clear they can do all this. After watching the above video, I realize how effective the data mining and other features that FB has. I’ve never posted political affiliations but apparently after liking some of Ron Paul’s comments and making a couple comments here and there about some of my stances I now see ads for conservative and libertarians groups. Wow, that is interesting to derive that from liking someone’s posts. My friend asked me to join a fan page for a state sponsored environmental agency. No I get socialist and environmentalist ads on my profile. That just drove me crazy. It is something to keep in mind, I suppose, whenever we interact with one of the most popular sites on the web. Should we have to worry about worrying? I don’t know.
Where does this leave you and me? I feel and hope that something will come along to replace FB. Early last year MySpace let most of it’s staff go and FB took the throne (arguably even before this time). Something that is more in line with our concerns about privacy and more in line with social networking. I realize that if everyone clamps down and shares nothing about themselves we don’t have much of a social network. That’s ok! For every person that shares nothing we’ve got plenty of people willing to share more. But rather than making things impossible for us to regulate who and how we share things we need more control. The technology is out there. The need to monetize and return on investment must be removed. We need a social networking site that doesn’t need to answer to shareholders, generate revenue, or perhaps have some subversive roles as suggested by the video.
It will be painful but it needs to happen. When will we see our next MySpace or Facebook?