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Is Facebook actually useful as a social media platform? UX Experiment #1

Last week Zuckerberg announced that Facebook hit the 1 billion active users per month mark. That’s a lot of influence for an 8 year old! (Half the age of Resident Evil, as discussed in my previous blog. If Facebook tried to hang out with Resident Evil, RE would laugh and tell it to go play on the swings with Youtube).

This announcement followed a LOT of negative coverage for Facebook in the previous week, that incidentally just happened to coincide with MySpace deciding they want us back.

Such as… Facebooks shares falling, sending Zuckerberg “tumbling” down the Forbes 400 rich list. HOW AWFUL for him to have become a bit less filthy rich. Reports that Facebook had been allegedly dragging up our embarrassing pasts by reposting old messages in timelines and certainly employing creepy business models by tracking drug store purchases of users so as to show them more relevant adds does not help when it comes Facebook’s image as a creepy weirdo standing far too close to you on public transport. 

Personally, I prefer the UX of Google+. Unfortunately, no-ones else does. I do think this will change in future as it has a lot of useful features. First will come the businesses for the Hangouts and the SEO, then the writers for the recognition of their Authorship… others will follow. Facebook is increasingly feeling like an email account with added nosiness, rather than a truly engaging social media platform. Facebook’s propensity to force intrusive ads and feature changes onto users is a little bit… well, Frape-y.

There’s a large part of me that hates Facebook, often refusing to use it or add new people and keeping my account walled up with privacy in the hope that if I don’t feed it then it will die. I decided to go for a month without using Facebook because this would show me if was actually useful as a platform.

Usually, when I get close to slaying the account I don’t because:

  1. Dude, all my photos are on there.
  2. It’s how I keep in touch with people I don’t see so much anymore – e.g. old bandmates.
  3. It’s how I arrange events for groups of people.
  4. It keeps everyone up to date with the banalities of other people’s lives.

After the end of this 4 week experiment I can now report that I have barely missed Facebook at all. The only times I have noticed I’m not using it have been the following scenarios:

  • I’m using Twitter a lot more but that’s ok because, for me, Twitter is more professionally useful, allowing me to network with other people in the local digital industry, read interesting articles that are actually teaching me something and otherwise wasting many hours of the week. OK, so maybe just a little bit more productive.
  • Facebook seems to lull you into thinking you are sustaining your friendships when you’re not. Without it, I’ve been more likely to have to meet people in person or call them for proper catch ups. This is nice because when I “like” what they say we can actually have a conversation about it! A few friends have dropped “because you’re not on Facebook at the moment” into conversation when telling me gossip that I haven’t heard yet, however, I am evidentially still included in the gossip loop.
  • In week 3 one friend calls to check I am ok – which is a thinly veiled attempt to check I’m not mad at them for something and have “blocked.” I’m not. I was last week and probably would have posted an arsey “of the moment” status update about it so not being on Facebook can only be a good thing.
  • At the start of week 4 I want to arrange some events and I realise how it would have been useful to use Facebook to do this. However, I remember how irritating it can be when you put an event on Facebook and then have to call everyone to confirm numbers anyway as no-one seems to look at their events or reply, even when they can make it. I decide to just use the old fashioned “phone people” concept as at least then I know for sure if someone is coming. I want to invite people round for Christmas dinners in December so I decide to make actual invitations as this will be SO RETRO!
  • During week 4 an old school friend who is preggers tells me I need to get back on Facebook so I can see her scan photos. Or Instagram. Or she could text them. I’m going to see her in person next month as well. So I don’t really need to be back on Facebook.
  • At the end of week 4 one of my old bandmates texts me to invite me to her engagement party – THUS DISPROVING the “need it to keep in touch with people like my old bandmates” theory.

This tells me a few things about how useful Facebook actually is to me (not very). It tells me:

  1. The UX of Facebook is often irritating.
  2. Facebook is not as useful as I thought it was, actually it just delays me getting the answers I need.
  3. It does keep me up to date with friends news but doesn’t beat having a conversation with them about it – not only is it good for bonding but gossip is good for your health too.
  4. It lacks the personal touch. These aren’t real relationships and how you feel could easily be misrepresented. The whole Facebook brand feels impersonal.
  5. I can use other social platforms to replace all the functions of Facebook anyway. Alternative platforms are easy to sign up to and mean I can access more relevant information with the advantage of a niche community in some cases. Seems like the wolves are at the door if you ask me…

When I sign back into Facebook it takes about 30 seconds for me to get hacked off with the UX – and, surprise surprise, it’s due to difficulty with the privacy settings. The whole layout of the platform just looks like a BIG MESS. MySpace and Google+ are looking pretty good right now.

I’m off to find a cheat for taking all my photos off…

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Interesting people to follow from this article:

If you feel you aren’t procrastinating enough on Twitter fill that gap with journo @brokenbottleboy

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And then there’s me… @lauraofbrighton