There’s been a lot written about Facebook lately, what with its big initial public offering and everything, and the overwhelming majority of it has been negative. Even my own post running up to the IPO focused on all the bad things that have dogged the site during its crazy climb over the past few years, from users’ privacy concerns to advertisers’ doubts about the site’s usefulness.
My Maclean’s comrade Jesse Brown also wrote a post last week in which he proclaimed that Facebook’s stock has never been lower (for him). He’s just not getting much use out of the site anymore, if he ever did, a sentiment shared by many.
Yet, when faced with so much negativity, I can’t help but start to feel contrarian. In the case of Facebook, if everyone hates it so much, how has it grown to nearly a billion users? And how did it become the most anticipated IPO since Google?
The answer, I think, is that like all things online, Facebook is at the centre of its own negativity echo chamber. And in the website’s case, it’s a rather odd one.
The reality is this: despite what we so-called technology pundits may think and often write, the vast majority of Facebook’s 900-million-plus users probably really like using the site. For every curmudgeon like me or Jesse who is on it begrudgingly, there are dozens who love and are constantly on it. Indeed, that’s what the numbers show—people spend more time on Facebook than any other website, by far.
Why? It’s simple. Literally. Facebook is almost like an introductory form of the Internet, a one-stop shop where many users get everything they need. They can keep in touch with friends, look at photos of their vacations, read news stories they suggest, play time-wasting games, invite people to their parties and speak and be heard. For many, there isn’t much need to venture out into the wild untamed frontier that is the larger Internet. Maybe they will some day, but for now, Facebook will do.
I suspect the supposed online intelligentsia often forgets this, or resents it. We don’t think it’s right for people to play in a walled garden controlled by what is now a monolithic, publicly owned company that has dubious designs on our personal data.
Getting right down to it, we think we’re better than Facebook—or at least that the Internet should be better than Facebook.
Yet when we surround ourselves with like-minded people or only hear similar complaints, it’s hard to ever consider the other side. It’s an echo chamber that prevents us from ever thinking that, hey, what if Facebook really is, y’know, awesome?
When I think about it objectively, the site may in fact be more useful to me than it’s ever been. Jesse complains that his news feed is clogged up with people he doesn’t know or companies he doesn’t remember “liking,” yet such things are easily hidden so only that which you want to see remains. As for privacy, I’ve always subscribed to the thinking that if there’s a secret you really don’t want the world to know, don’t ever tell it to anyone. That goes double for the Internet and triple for Facebook.
I love Twitter because the people I follow are always pointing to interesting things. The advantage to using Facebook to accomplish the same thing is that I’m more likely to have something in common with the people doing the sharing (at least I am, since I haven’t “friended” a ton of strangers.) While I may find more things on Twitter that are important to me on a professional level, on Facebook I’m constantly discovering stuff that’s of personal interest. It’s where I indulge my comic book fetish, for example.
Maybe Facebook will some day change so that it’s more accepted by the techno-elite. But I doubt it—the echo chamber probably can’t be silenced at this point. Perhaps whatever comes along next won’t be quite so populist and a little more friendly to the intelligentsia. But we’ll still probably write negative things about it.