Monday, August 02, 2010

Facebook is Revolutionary

Are you Revolutionary, too? Get with the program, don't be a laggard! Join the movement now! Quiet back there, no questions!

Is it just me, or is Facebook getting kind of big for its britches -- and also kind of mean?

For instance, will it continue to delete references to Quora? Several people liked my "answer" to a "question" regarding the issue of "Quora vs. Facebook Questions", in which I conjectured how the sites could differ because of distinct user behaviors, but then Facebook just removed the whole thing. ("the item no longer exists ...")

In fact, a day after that, all my Facebook Updates that said, "Person X likes your answer" were also wiped clean from the updates bar.

This seems very Microsoft-authoritarian: "We just expunge (和諧, har har) whatever we don't like." What happened to the freedom-of-speech ethos?

It's sad, because people are starting to become suspicious of Facebook and its intentions, and thinking of it as a bully like Microsoft -- quite an accomplishment for a company that hasn't even gone public. Facebook is swaggering around because it think it's become indispensable, and can thus be careless with user-generated content. (For example, in the last round of changes, it forcibly grabbed our profiles and changed everything written in them into the "group page" format. This felt really rude and inappropriate -- it treated our writings like data points to be shoved into categorical boxes, rather than expressions of ourselves. It would be like taking someone's blog and saying, "Ah, this is a blog about cooking!" And then cutting out the content and replacing it with a cooking tag. Perhaps the example is a little hyperbolic, because Facebook profiles don't have as much text as blogs, but the text that was there was carefully crafted and chosen to represent ourselves.)

Maybe Facebook thinks users are an uneducated, stupid mob that need to be told what to do and how to behave. But sometimes, the company's actions feel not only patronizing, but a bit controlling, too. Facebook has pretensions of being a "popular" or "grassroots" movement, but in fact, it's somewhat elitist. It feels like the company looks down on the user, who is presumed to be incapable of choosing properly, because we're ignorant bumpkins.

Now, there's nothing wrong with "elitist" per se -- after all, they are the software experts/programmers (and our fellow classmates from Stanford =P), and have a better idea for what might improve the user experience. (Still, asking consumers what they want is not a bad start, though obviously not always definitive.) Apple keeps tight reins over its products to assure quality, for example. But something feels a little bit off with Facebook these days.

At least with Google, we have "Don't be evil." In contrast, it seems that Facebook doesn't think it's capable of being evil, so it doesn't have even this normative safeguard. So dangerous ...

Ironically, I am typing this from behind the Great Firewall.

Theory: For now, maybe Facebook allows most content online, except for things that threaten its "core interests." Like, for instance, its decision to enter the social question & answer space. Once it's done that, then we have to nix all references to Quora. Innocuous, right? "Q&A is something Facebook is now taking care of -- sorry, no one else is allowed to get involved. After all, who better than Facebook itself to provide the right service, choose the right features, create the right atmosphere, for the user?" A very harmonious atmosphere indeed.

But I suspect those "core interests" will expand over time, to include not only Xinjiang and Tibet, but the Spratly Isl... oops, I mean ... whatever else Facebook fancies itself becoming. Eventually, the site will subsume all public space, and all "public" activities will have to be conducted through the Party ... erm ... through the Facebook platform.

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