Facebook’s Growing Problem

I had this post half written when I went away last weekend for my daughter’s college graduation. When I returned, I read these comments made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the e-G8, bemoaning the fact that people are still concerned about privacy on Facebook despite all its benefits for social change worldwide:

We see this kind of dual coverage in the media and in the public debate, where on the one hand, people are like, “You enabled this big change, that was sweet,” but on the other hand, “You’re enabling all this sharing, and that might be kind of scary — and we’re not sure we like that.”

I think Zuckerberg has it all wrong. Sure, concerns about privacy may be how people frame their disenchantment with Facebook, but that is not the real issue for the people I talk to. What Facebook should really worry about is that being on Facebook is no longer fun for a growing number of users. It is a necessity for many, an amusement for some, but mostly it is a chore. Facebook is in danger of becoming the DMV of social networking sites: we go there because we have to, not because we want to.

Facebook has largely brought this on themselves by the clumsy, opaque way they have instituted changes in the site. But public relations snafus aside, with every addition of new “features” the site has become more labyrinthine to navigate for regular users. What could have been a series of useful, well-designed upgrades to streamline and improve the user experience has instead turned the site into a Winchester Mystery House of functionality: you may know how to complete that common action today, but where will the link be to it tomorrow? That’s anyone’s guess.

It’s not just regular users and small business Facebook Page owners who are losing interest in the site; it is also prevalent in the comments of industry leaders. Recently on This Week in TechLeo Laporte gave a carefully halfhearted endorsement of Facebook as a social media platform: “You can’t not be on Facebook,” and went on to compare the site to an invasive plant species. Even Guy Kawasaki, talking about creating a quiz for Enchantment’s marketing campaign, notes:

At first, I had only a Facebook version [of the quiz], but similar to my Fan Page, I realized that there are people on the planet who weren’t members of Facebook yet, so I also created a standalone website version. Here’s a mind blower: Approximately 700 people took the Facebook version, and 2,900 people took the standalone website version, even though it came out two weeks after the Facebook version. This is something to think about. Don’t focus all your energy on Facebook.

Facebook is a stunningly successful social media platform that has forever altered how we conduct our relationships. It allows me to share photos of my daughter’s graduation just as it helps people organize massive protests in the Middle East. It is also a highly effective marketing tool for large brands and small businesses, and is the game to beat in terms of getting your message out to a highly targeted audience. But as time goes on the grumbling about Facebook only gets louder, and not just by malcontents with baseless privacy concerns, as Zuckerberg would portray it.

Perhaps there is a way to parlay a “cool” site into a well-monetized site without taking all the fun out of it, but Facebook seems to be failing in that effort. That leaves a growing number of Facebook users with minimal brand loyalty, just waiting for the next upstart with better design and usability to take the field. If I were Mark Zuckerberg, that is the problem that I would now apply my considerable intelligence to solving.

One thought on “Facebook’s Growing Problem

  1. Zuckerberg’s comment also conflates users’ voluntary sharing with the almost inescapable data mining that goes on “behind the scenes,” of which many users may not even be aware. The protests in Egypt had little to do with ensuring corporate access to sex/age statistics and other demographic info. His comment also ignores the basic violation of trust that can happen when users discover (as I did, twice, before deleting all my info and turning my account into a “ghost” account) that each new upgrade can potentially revert previously private settings to a “public” default. It’s not just that Facebook isn’t fun anymore. Some complaints about privacy are legitimate.

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