Relax, enraged Facebook users, everything’s going to be OK
Prepare yourselves, people, it's about to get ugly.
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerbeg announced Thursday a slew of major changes to the popular social network. The updates – things like "Timeline," which is a completely re-imagined version of the profile; and "Open Graph," which allows users to share nearly any thing or activity in their life on their Wall – will profoundly alter the way people use the site. And while these changes are still weeks away for most users, I already know one thing for sure: Everyone is going to be mad.
Prior to the big f8 announcements, Facebook made a few alterations to the way Facebook works. First, they integrated the "Top News" and "Most Recent" sections of the News Feed so that everything appears on one page. Posts are now chosen algorithmically based upon user engagement, rather than appearing in chronological order. Next, they added the "ticker," which appears along the right side of the page, and displays literally every activity a person does on the site.
Instantaneously, it seemed, a vocal majority of my friends erupted into an orgy of hate, spewing vitriol about every aspect of the new features in an endless stream of enraged posts. Pretty soon, my Top News, Most Recent news and the ticker were all packed with complaints about the changes.
"What in the hell is everyone so mad about?" I wondered. "Am I missing something here?"
I, for one, think the update to the News Feed is a much-needed change. Long ago, I'd grown weary of clicking the "Most Recent" link every day, just to see what was going on with my friends at that moment. And the ticker, while it makes me feel a bit like everyone I know is constantly looking over my shoulder, is easy enough to ignore.
Essentially, it seems to me everyone is making much ado about nothing.
To be sure, there are good reasons to complain about Facebook. It's privacy policies, while improved from years past, remain a concern – and the introduction of Timeline and Open Graph are sure to crack open a whole new barrel of problems. Users' personal information is used to sell advertising, which packs Zuckerberg's pockets full of cash. The site is regularly used by authorities – from employers to the FBI – to keep track of private citizen's activities. And despite the fact that children under the age of 13 are officially banned from using the site, Consumer Reports estimates that around 7.5 million of them have a profile.
These are reasons to be angry with Facebook. A slight reorganization of a feature is not. And besides, if you really don't like it, there's always Google+.
Of course, this is far from the first time Facebook design changes resulted in user backlash. In fact, every design change, from the introduction of the News Feed in 2006 to the "Happening Now" feature that rolled out in June of this year, have caused an uproar loud enough to be heard from space. We now expect the anger, justified or not.
It is this inevitable bickering about a social network that makes me think I've missed the point of the outrage altogether; that complaining about life is as social an activity as it gets. People love their own righteous indignation. And nothing achieves that fuzzy feeling better than a group hate session about something to which everyone can relate. What else is a social network for, if not to lament our woes, and to feel happier because of it?
By now, the wizards at Facebook have surely figured this out. So it's unlikely that the hullabaloo that resulted from this week's changes caught the team in Palo Alto off guard. It's even possible that they planned the whole thing, knowing what changes they had in store.
"One way to change something big is to get people really riled up about how you've changed something small," writes Nicholas Thompson on the New Yorker. "Repaint the boat, and let them to argue about that. By the time they've realized that green is no worse than blue, they won't have the energy to wonder whether it was a smart idea for you to set sail for Australia."
So perhaps that's what Facebook is doing — manipulating us to serve its own ends. And, if you ask me, that kind of blatant deception is something to get upset about.