Facebook and the social contract

It’s hard for me to get worked up into a nice lather over the most recent renovations to Facebook, aka The Site You Just Can’t Quit. For one, my main interaction with it these days is through TweetDeck, which very nicely strips away all the irrelevant layout and advertising to show me just the status updates, ma’am. And for another, ever since I quit playing games like Farmville and Mafia Wars cold turkey — both more addictive than heroin or crystal meth I’m told — I really have little reason to go to the site proper anymore.

Mob with torches and pitchforks
Zuckerberg you soundrel! Show yourself!

While it’s been interesting to observe the backlash against the latest Facelift, I’ve developed a greater interest in the predictable backlash against the backlash. People who have taken to the internets to complain about Facebook are derided as lacking perspective, or of bitching pointlessly about a free service making changes that its entitled to.

This misses the point completely. Just because we’re not paying to use Facebook doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have expectations as to the user experience it provides. The point of the site (aside from generating mountains of profit) is to allow its users to interact with each other as easily as possible, is it not? So when sweeping changes are introduced at random intervals and with little warning or explanation, how are users supposed to feel if not pissed off? Is this not a violation of Facebook longstanding (but obviously unwritten) social contract?

And really, it’s not the fact that Facebook changes that people object to, so please let’s dispense with the tired comparisons to MySpace. MySpace didn’t fail because it stagnated, it failed because it never grew beyond being a haven for attention-starved teenagers and lousy bands. And it looked like shit.

No, it’s partly because these changes are so ham-fistedly introduced and simply rammed down users’ throats. It’s a manifestation of what I call George Lucas SyndromeYeah we know that people loved the ease of our old layout and are incredibly loyal to our brand, but we know what’s best for them and gosh darnit, isn’t this newer technology just swell! Oh and by the way, you’re not going to be able to go back to the way it was before so just deal with it.

At least give users the option of sticking with a particular layout, or even better, give them a set of preferences with which to customize their own user experience. Of course that might impeded the delivery of all-important advertising, so that ain’t gonna happen. Except this time, there may be a penalty for Facebook to pay for annoying their customers – migration to Google+.