Why I Can't Use Facebook Any More

If there’s one thing Star Wars Galaxies taught me, it’s why Facebook is the Jedi Knight of social networks. Which is to say, broken.
See, when I heard the first Star Wars-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game was starting up, I thought it would be awesome – even if I don’t play MMORPGs. (A game with no definable end point is a bad thing for a gaming-obsessed, job-holding weasel.) What I didn’t consider is that designing for one audience often means you alienate another.
Since Star Wars Galaxies was set before the original Star Wars, Jedi were a rare thing – after all, Luke hadn’t even heard of them. So you could become a Jedi, but only through an arcane method that few understood and even fewer had the time to level-grind to manage. Then, when you finally became a Jedi, the rewards were that people would start bounty-hunting you.
This was great from a flavor perspective, and certain gamers loved the challenge, but casual gamers got pissed off. Why do those dweebs get to be Jedi just because they have thirty hours a week to devote to this game? I can only play for an hour a night. Why am I paying my subscription fee to not be a Jedi?
What Star Wars Galaxies brought to the fore is that there were three separate audiences, none of whom could be satisfied simultaneously: the Star Wars nerds who wanted Jedi to be rare because that’s the way it was before the movies, the die-hard gamers who wanted “being a Jedi” to be the reward at the end of an impossible quest, and the casual games who wanted the Jedi-hood to be something they could do, quite literally, in their spare time.
It was a question of who you lopped off, really. Eventually, Galaxies just said “fuck it” and made Jedi into a starting profession. This made the guys who’d devoted months to their Jedi career unhappy – but at this point, the designers had discovered the Star Wars equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru, an unwinnable situation where no matter what their next move was, they’d pisse off a ton of fans.
By making one faction happy, they’d destroy the experience for someone else.  That’s where Facebook is now.
I am a minority at Facebook. I know this.  I have about 700 “friends,” many of whom I don’t know that well because I get around online a lot and people tend to friend me randomly.
The average Facebook user has about 130, and I’m willing to bet most of those friends are people they’ve met personally.
Furthermore, Facebook is  clogged with work and old school friends, ex-girlfriends of friends of mine, and who the fuck is that guy anyway? Did I friend him on a drunken bender one night? His profile picture seems alien and scary, is he a serial killer?  As such, I visit a lot, but mostly to see how people have responded to me. If I want to check in on my friends, I go to LJ or Twitter, with bouts of Google+.
(And with all that, I still have 100+ people I haven’t friended because I don’t know who they are. Dangers of being a D-list Internet celeb.)
So Facebook has this uphill climb because its hyper-aggro method networking everyone means it’s infested with all of these people I’m not particularly keen on in the first place. It’s like being at a party with that guy you hooked up with three years ago.  Okay, you know him, but how much time did you really want to spend catching up?
Facebook seems to have recognized this, and has been slowly developing an algorithm that sorts out the most “important” posts. Except it’s completely broken. The algorithm seems weighted heavily towards likes and comments, which means the first thing that shows up on every Facebook home page viewing is some stupid cartoon that everyone thought was funny, or yet another article on the 99%.
Meanwhile, I’ve had not one, but three people undergo life-threatening surgery on my Facebook list, which I found out about through other means.
Furthermore, the people I interact with become this tightening circle of interaction. I respond to someone’s post because, miraculously, they had a personal experience that wound up at the top of my queue. Facebook goes, “Oh, you like them!  Let’s show more of them!”  So suddenly, my feed is infested by the same twelve people, and if you had a life-changing event and you’re not in my Facebook-culled Inner Circle, well, fuck you. You haven’t cracked the algorithm.
You might as well not exist as far as my Facebook world goes.
Meanwhile, the people I did interact with once thanks to Facebook’s algorithm become my BEST BUDS EVAR, where Facebook slavishly keeps showing me everything they did.  Hey, Shirley watered her plants!  You want to know about Shirley’s plants, right?  Oh, and now she’s vacuuming! She took a photo of a sunset!
Thing is, what Facebook’s designing Facebook for are its die-hard fans. They’re making it so that you never want to leave – so they’re flooding you with more information. Here’s a constant stream of your friends’ interactions! Here’s your chat bar! Here’s your reason to make this your home page, to constantly refresh the page and flood them with advertisement views! Why go anywhere?
That’s great. I bet if I was a college student with 120 friends, most of whom were family and my drinking buddies, this would be awesome. I’d constantly see what people I loved were up to, and I’d chat with them, and when they commented on someone’s post it would be news I wanted.
Problem is, that’s not who I am. I’m the guy who shows up twice a day and skims a friends list that is probably more cruft than content. And it does an awful, awful job at actually picking out the interesting facts at what these people are doing so I can get to know them better.
You know where I do get to know them better? Twitter. Straight-up Twitter, where I may miss something, but it’s all in chronological order and I see everyone in a nice, democratic fashion – you posted last? Well, here you are. Nice to read you.
I’m not at Facebook to collect clever demotivational posters or to play Farmville, which means that Facebook has become an unmanageable mess for me. I literally can’t use it. All it provides me with is crap.
Does that mean Facebook is bad? No. It means that for many kinds of people, I’m sure it works. But I’m an edge case – not a horrifically unusual edge case, one suspects, but still not the main audience – where Facebook breaks down. It’s an active annoyance to me. It’s like a annoying spammer I have to visit.
Yes, I could clean it up via filters and selective weighting, I know, but a page that I actually have to treat like a job is not a page I want to be a part of. I’m not here to be caretaker to my social network, I’m here to have it work.
I’m on the verge of declaring Facebook bankruptcy and just not visiting it any more. Why don’t I? My Mom’s there, and she reads my status updates to see how I’m doing.
See? it works for her.

Arkham City: Preliminary Complaints

The glory of Arkham Asylum was that whenever Batman died, you never felt like it was his fault.  Batman was a chained panther, so eager to beat up criminals that you had the feeling if you dropped the controller, Batman might keep punching Joker gang members because he had not dispensed SUFFICIENT JUSTICE.
The controls were so tight, and Batman so obviously competent, that any time you died, it felt like you had let Batman down.  You were insufficient.  Batman remained bad-ass.
Which is why it’s such a shame that Arkham City turns Batman into Rain Man.
I was a little worried about Arkham City because it was an open-ended game, a la Grand Theft Auto, as opposed to the “Walk through this level ’til you hit the cut scene” of Arkham Asylum. And I get lost going to the bathroom.  As a man with no sense of direction, in a city that’s designed for rooftop swings and alleyway scuffles, I was terrified that Arkham City would just leave me wandering in circles, desperately trying to find my way to the next mission.
And lo!  Guess what happened?  There’s a map, but no obvious way to set a waypoint marker – or at least it hasn’t come up on the tutorials yet, and the “instruction manual” is literally a two-page sheet of emptiness that warns you about extended playing time.  So I’m flailing about the city, not sure which direction I’m facing, bringing up the map and going fifty feet, bringing up the map and making sure I haven’t gotten turned around, bringing up the map and…
Batman Is Annoying (Altered from a picture via Z3ldaFan)See, the problem with Arkham City is that when Batman’s on the case, because he can go anywhere, Batman helpfully reminds you of what you’re supposed to do next by muttering it to himself.  “I have to scale the belltower to find the location of the shooter,” he says.  And that’s great!  Thanks for the help, Bats!
Then, thirty seconds later, he says it again.  “I have to scale the belltower to find the location of the shooter.”  Which is somewhat less helpful, because not very much time has passed, and Bats has not pointed towards the belltower, nor given any other indication in a possible direction where it might lie.
“I have to scale the belltower to find the location of the shooter.” “I have to scale the belltower to find the location of the shooter.” “I have to scale the belltower to find the location of the shooter.” Every thirty fucking seconds.  Eventually my wife was shouting, “SHUT UP BATMAN SHUT UP.”
Batman might as well be wandering around muttering, “Ten minutes to Wapner.  Ten minutes to Wapner.” It’s like Navi’s “Hey!  Listen!” only not quite as helpful – because despite all of Bats’ arsenal, a simple compass doesn’t seem to be one of them.
This makes Batman not a caged panther, but an annoying pal.  “You’re the great fucking detective,” you say.  “How about just grappling hooking your way to where you need to be so I can punch some more bad guys?”  But no.  “IhavetoscalethebelltowerIhavetoscalethebelltowerIhavetoscalethebelltowerGAH NOW I KNOW HOW THE JOKER FEELS.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun punching bad guys.  But the game seems woefully short on explaining the user experience – there was one level where three switches needed to be shut off to stop Batman from dying to steam.  (Yes, in my game, badass Batman died from walking into steam.)  And I spent ten minutes hitting each switch with a Batarang, as had been explained in a previous segment, but there wasn’t enough time – I’d fire one Batarang, and by the time the next one hit, the other switches had flipped back on again.  (Because they are, apparently, mysterious switches that flip back on by themselves.  Happen all the time.)
It wasn’t until I broke down and looked at a cheat guide, which told me, “Just tap the button three times quick.  You don’t even need to aim.  Batman will do that for you.”  GOOD TO FUCKING KNOW, ARKHAM CITY, THANKS FOR EXPLAINING THIS RAPID-FIRE BUTTON IN THE MANUAL – WAIT, THERE’S NO MANUAL – OR THE TUTORIAL THAT DOESN’T EXIST. THANKS FOR LETTING ME SPEND ALL THIS GODDAMNED TIME AIMING.
So it’s not a terrible game, but my opinion of it after two hours of play is that it’s a fairly unpolished addition to Arkham Asylum.  Fortunately, Arkham Asylum was so polished that I can beat up random bad guys all day and still feel pretty good about myself.

I'm Not Sure If I Want To Play It….

…but damn if this 360-degree playspace for FPSes doesn’t look impressive as all hell.

Now, while the whole “run around and shoot” thing looks awesome, I’m not sure how those teeny treadmills underneath are going to keep me in the frame when I start running in terror.  Plus, like the Kinect, we are slothful gamers who will collapse in a puddle.  It’s one thing to play Marines with your fingers, another to do it with your whole body.
Still, I wanna at least see.

Strange Connections Of Death And Kinkajous

Those of you who have seen my profile on OKCupid or my default FetLife picture may have seen this photo of me before:
Nibble Nibble
Yes.  That is me, with a kinkajou on my head. (If you must be a pedant, look at this photo and STFU.)
I wore a merry kinkajou for Purim at my um-daughter Carolyn’s school.  They held a festival, complete with a crazy petting zoo where I have, over the years, gotten to pet baby bears, baby cougars, baby kangaroos, kinkajous, monkeys, and all sorts of other spectacular animals. Every year I showed up and petted something utterly insane.
There were rumors, of course. The wildlife sanctuary had many complaints, filed by its neighbors.  It was being investigated for not really knowing how to take care of its animals – but like a crazy cat lady magnified a thousand times, the owner would take in literally any animal as refuge from anywhere, no questions asked.  He cared about all sorts of wildlife, and wanted it protected.
But hey!  He brought kinkajous.  And tiny bears you could pet.  So I didn’t ask too much, not that it was really my place to investigate.
Well, turns out the owner was found dead under “mysterious circumstances” after spending a year in jail on federal weapons charges.  Just to add a touch of movie panache to this whole caper, all the animals have escaped and the cops are now having to shoot wild, aggressive animals in the street.  (Maybe they’re not all aggressive – that has a touch of police justification about it – but still, you see a full-sized black bear that has no fear of humans walking down main street, followed by a pack of wolves, I’m not gonna blame anyone for flipping out a bit.)
Numerous people have emailed me asking whether I know about this.  The answer?  I’ve worn the guy’s merchandise.  And now he’s dead, and Zanesville is thoroughly 12 Monkied.
I’m not sure whether that makes this photo cooler or worse.

Blogging About Blogging Is A Sin, Part 2: The Slowdown

One of the things any blogger of note learns to deal with is Audience Creep.
Which is to say that as more people read you, the chances that someone is going to tell you, correctly, that your ass is showing expand exponentially.  And as more people flood in from inbound links, the chances that someone is going to misinterpret that poorly-worded sentence of yours also expands exponentially.  And the chances that your comments threads will explode in a ball of flame expand exponentially.
(…The chances that someone will even point out that you are using the word “exponentially” wrong expand exponentially.)
For some, this isn’t a problem.  “I just write what I want, and fuck them,” they say.  And that’s great.  But the rest of us write these passionate blog entries on meaningful topics to try to convince others.  We want to have people going, “Yes, what a fine point,” not Duelling Blog Posts back and forth from outsiders debating What She Really Meant.
So your blogging starts to take on a distinctly accumulative method.  You start getting that Spider-Sense tingle of “Oh, this is dangerous territory, I best step carefully,” because you know this entry is a container of gelignite if you don’t handle it properly.  And you’re not looking to create flame wars, but productive discussion.
So you write the entry, and that Spider-Sense is saying, “Oh, people might think I’m saying this, so I’d better clarify here.  And this is perhaps not the most enlightened gut response, so I’d better change that.”
This has three results:
1)  You write better blog entries.
2)  That are a lot longer.
3)  That take more effort.
And then when those blog entries hit, they tend to generate such discussion that you need to monitor the feedback to ensure that people aren’t axing each other in the head in the comments.  (Because really, as your blog-moderator, you’re responsible.)  And it’s good, but it takes more effort.
Not every blog entry is like this; your life updates aren’t, your musings on your core competency aren’t (I can dash off relationship entries like there’s no tomorrow), your silly humor pieces aren’t.
But if you want to discuss Feminism or Politics or even trends in the industry you work in where people read you, you slow down a bit.  Stop.  Make sure that you’re not just going to make a fool of yourself, but that by writing this you will come off as the sort of person who others think of as well-spoken.
This takes time.
Between my novel and my job and my wife and girlfriends, I feel bad, because I literally have more entries than I have time to write, and manage.  I still want to get back around to the Gay In YA thing, and I have some more musings on Occupy Wall Street, and of course a thousand other weighty entries that would take time to do properly.
I do about one “serious” entry a week, and that takes me an hour (including reading it to Gini to ensure that I’ve gotten it right).  I know other bloggers have done the same.  If you’re going to make a big stink in public, you mise well make sure it smells the right way.
But that is a slowdown.  And it means your blog becomes more work, less “Let’s go here and play!”
Is it any wonder why people head towards Twitter?
It’s not like that for everyone, of course, and if you have nobody reading you or if you’re the sort of person who can naturally sound good on the first draft (Scalzi comes to mind as someone who’s quite excellent at that), then fuck it.  Go.  But for many of us, it’s as though our blog has become this bubbling stew of things we’d like to write about, but don’t want to do the topic the dishonor of doing it improperly.
I’m not sure how you fix that.  if you can fix that.  But it’s there, and it’s probably another part of LJ’s slow fade.