Thursday, September 22, 2011

Not Everyone Is A Geek (Facebook)

My Social Graph
I'm pressed for time today so this one will likely be short, minimally edited and perhaps a bit more jumbled than normal logic wise. The topic is highly news worthy right now though and I really want to get something out.

Facebook is apparently going to release/announce even more changes today and many in the technical press are waxing poetic about how wonderful it is going to be. Great, I don't doubt that people who love technology are going to be impressed. Frankly though that doesn't matter because the vast majority of Facebook's seven hundred and fifty million users are not tech savvy geeks. They are just people who want to hang out with their friends and family and share the occasional thought or event. They want a platform that intrudes minimally on their ability to do that and each "feature" beyond that happy minimum clutters their experience and leads to confusion and frustration.

Those of use who are of a geeky persuasion have always made up a disproportionate percentage of the users on most online services. Yes, the representation online has broadened substantially in the past fifteen years but until Facebook there was never a site that appealed broadly to almost everyone.

Facebook isn't run by normal people. It's run for the most part by a core group that are under the age of thirty, highly tech savvy and very bright. That description matches a substantial percentage of the work force as well. They are creating features that they think are cool, and they are right. If you're under thirty and highly tech savvy. This isn't to say that there is zero appeal outside of that core group, but the amount of appeal is going to be much more limited for many of these new features.

This likely explains why so many people complain every time Facebook rolls out a new round of changes. Much of that complaining is just a fear/dislike of change which is much more common outside of the technical community than it is within. It's easy to dismiss those complaints as meaningless in the longer term but I'm not convinced they are. With each successive major overhaul it has seemed like the level of complaints have increased and the amount of activity I see on Facebook has gone down. Keep in mine that the vast majority of the people I hang out with on Facebook are over forty years old, as am I.

This latest round of changes seems focused on turning Facebook into an all inclusive platform, almost an OS. You could in theory create devices that ran Facebook as an overlay. Add an HTML 5 browser and you would never have to leave. I can see the appeal of that for tech types, particularly the tech types working at Facebook but will it appeal to the majority of their customers who just want to hang out with their friends with minimal clutter and noise?

Facebook owns the social graph. This is their biggest asset right now and a big part of the reason they've been able to get this far in the changes they are making. They risk is that they'll reach a tipping point where large numbers of people are no longer willing to deal with the changes and the complexity they introduce and start leaving. Are we at that point now? Too early to tell but I think we're close. The next month or two will be very interesting for Facebook and social networking in general.

I halfway seriously made a comment on Twitter in response to something I read that Apple should create a simple cross platform social network similar to early Facebook. Apple understands the importance of simplicity and could probably pull this off fairly quickly. They also have a large and seemingly ever growing legion of fans who are willing to at least try anything they bring out. Could they supplant Facebook with such a service? I'd like their chances more than I do Google's.

Image by krazydad / jbum via Flickr
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