A letter to my Facebook friend

As you might expect or hope of any student my age, I’m a somewhat happy grad student but a very happy full-time Facebook user. While I never had the interest to open an account on MySpace or Friendster or any other site of that type, when I received my “formal invitation” to Facebook from a friend, I quite casually accepted it and officially opened my profile in April of 2005.

Yes, I remember this like I remember my birthday. I may not be the kind to actively post, comment and “Like” things on friends’ profiles on a daily basis (although I do it several times a week for sure), but I do spend a goodly amount of time perusing the site like my new favorite magazine. I often find myself sneaking away from writing a school paper or reading chapters on communication theory and going on to Facebook to enjoy looking through friends’ latest posts, comments and photos. It may be somewhat of an addiction. Maybe. But truth is, it’s not that uncommon amongst anyone I know. But I don’t need to tell you this.

Knowing so little about something that’s so intricately woven into my daily routine, I decided I needed to know about the story of Facebook. I recently finished reading The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, which I’m sure, holds more true to your life and the life of Facebook than that of the overly dramatic movie The Social Network.

I finished the book the week before the movie premiered, which I consider good timing because without the book as the basis for my knowledge of Facebook, I could have easily fallen for the movie and taken it as fact, something I’m sure many viewers have done. But even with their misleading character portrayals, I have to applaud the movie for such captivating execution and beautifully crisp dialogue.

DearMark1In part because of my active use of the site but also because I was quite completely clueless about who this Mark Zuckerberg was (apologies), I thoroughly enjoyed every page of the book.  As I describe to friends, I would read it for hours and hours at a time to a point where my eyes would burn. The last time I remember this happening was with the last book in the Harry Potter series.  From the seemingly endless nights of programming in your Palo Alto house that first Fall to the multi-billion dollar deals Microsoft and Google offered, I was constantly fascinated.

But what I really began to understand after reading about Facebook and its origins was that our generation has become such an intrinsic part of this new and easily adaptable lifestyle that is changing society altogether. Facebook has become such a casual everyday activity that I had come to take this phenomenon for granted. But I’ve gained a new appreciation of my beloved Facebook, and of the creator that started it all.

I think I’m losing sight of what I wanted to say here. I love many things about Facebook, and I love that I can keep in touch with so many people, in such a transparent way, all in one place. It’s honestly therapeutic. Although I would like to avoid the pathetic young adult cliché of saying I seriously don’t know what I would do without Facebook, I seriously don’t know what I would do without Facebook. It has captured our minds like a virus and I have a strong suspicion that it’s going to be around for a while.

That said, I think constant improvements are necessary to keep its success going. The many changes you’ve made over the years prove this. While I’ve never had complaints about any of your previous changes to the site, I have been quite disheartened by the overdramatic reactions of many after changes such as the addition of the News Feed, or the opening of the site to high school kids. Change is necessary, with anything. I’d like to offer a few simple ideas to keep the site’s increasing addiction ongoing.

The first is a reoccurring topic that concerns everyone: choice and control. We need to feel trust. We like to have a say in everything and we like to feel like we have control over our profile and everything associated with it. Our profiles are our babies. As I mentioned earlier, many of the changes to the site have produced outrageous amounts of rage and unhappiness from users, precisely because they feel they’ve lost control of their privacy and/or their ability to decide on even the smallest aspects of their profile. Whether they’ve actually lost this control or not is not the matter. It’s the illusion that they’ve lost it.

From reading Kirkpatrick’s book, and from reading your latest post about Groups on your blog, I know you are completely aware of this and that seeming to take control away from the user was never intentional. But as you have seen, it’s also important to over-prepare for such outrageous yet understandable behavior. With any new actions on the site, like new applications, we need to be alerted to adjust our privacy settings at the beginning rather than later find out that they have been automatically adjusted for us.  I realize this is like childproofing a house full of infants incapable of measuring the consequences of their actions (online), but that’s what we need.

I also have a couple of smaller, more particular suggestions. One is to make friends’ birthday announcements more visible. Since the ads appear on that same side of the page, I never even glance at that section and later I realize I’ve missed a birthday. Maybe it could just be a more prominent graphic? Or maybe they could be the first stories on the News Feed and stay on top of the list all day.

Secondly, I love the idea of having a customized News Feed (a second one) that lets me choose the people I want to read about. It’s similar to the Groups idea, but in News Feed fashion. That way I can quickly look at what my 10 closest friends are up to in one page rather than going through their individual profiles. These of course are just personal preferences. But maybe others can relate. And that’s about all my praise and thoughts on Facebook.

We all love Facebook. Thank you for creating it.

DearkMark2

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