I found myself thinking about Facebook – a $100-billion IPO does draw attention – and my thought was, “Meh.” Is it just me? Of course, I have a Facebook account, and I sign in several times a week, but my engagement with the site is not what it once was.
Looking at the contents of my Facebook newsfeed, I had a revelation: Facebook is the new email. Back in the late 1990s, everyone started using email for leisure as well as work, and inboxes overflowed with forwarded jokes, heartwarming stories, petitions, health advice, brainteasers, scams, warnings about scams, and cute pictures. You could easily spot this type of message thanks to the string of “forwards” in the subject line:
“Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: The difference between cat people and dog people (funny!)”
“Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: Important! Share with the women in your life!”
This genre of email wasn’t spam; they were forwarded by someone you knew – someone who (all too often) was reflexively forwarding to their entire address book. You would end up getting the same email from multiple sources, and they would come in cycles. (“Oh, the warning about the Nigerian banking scam is making the rounds again”; “Tis the season for the ASCII art picture of Santa’s head…”)
And now this kind of activity has migrated onto Facebook. A few people are sharing real details about their own lives through personal status updates and photos. But a lot of us are doing the equivalent of email forwarding: we re-post photos, videos, links, and messages we’ve seen in other people’s newsfeeds. Cute animal! Hilarious celebrity blooper! Outrageous political incident! Cause that needs your support! And of course, as a corollary to the email scam alerts, warnings about the medium itself.
Don’t get me wrong – some of this stuff is pure gold: entertaining, bizarre, LOL-worthy, occasionally even important. But for that kind of online distraction and edification, I can go to Reddit, BuzzFeed, major media sites, or that other social network. And I won’t have to wade through posts from Farmville, a reminder that Friend X is playing Slotomania!, and the other schlock that makes Facebook occasionally cringe-worthy.
Facebook used to be more fun. In the early days, there were more personal status updates, and I felt like I was staying in touch with friends and family members I didn’t see or talk to every day. But composing a personal post involves more effort (and more risk, if you’re worried about privacy) than posting a link or – even easier – re-posting the link your friend has already shared. Frictionless sharing, where an app automatically lets you know that I’m reading “Top 10 Celebrity Photoshop Transformations,” only increases the volume of this type of passive, impersonal content.
So if Facebook is boring and Google+ is creepy, where on the social web do I hang out? If it isn’t already obvious, I heart Twitter. I’ll write about why in an upcoming post.