Why Facebook Is Gonna Shrink And Die

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“We believe, that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or a substitute for, Facebook.”
Facebook’s Annual 10k Report

Up to 61 percent of Facebook’s users have taken a “Facebook vacation” in the last year- stepping away from Facebook for weeks, or even months, at a time.  And it’s not that surprising, really.
Facebook is a job, disguised as a relaxation.
A social network’s number one job is to be fun… well, it is to the people using it, anyway.  To the people who are operating it and trying to make a profit, the number one job is to a) get more customers, and b) get those customers to spend as much time on the site providing data, so c) you can sell ads to them.  There’s nothing new there.
But it does mean that Facebook is constantly pushing you to expand your envelope.  HEY DO YOU KNOW THESE PEOPLE HERE?  And you do, sorta, you hung out with them at a couple of parties, you remember their faces, but you’re not buddies or anything.  But Facebook wants you to know them.  It wants you to be close to all of your friends and relatives and acquaintances and workmates, endlessly treating your social group like it was one homogenous mass.
And it keeps forcing you into awkward, drama-filled situations.  You get friends requests, each of which is laden with mild drama: hey, do you want your fourteen-year-old cousin seeing your pictures of you drinking?  There’s that creepy guy who’s dating your friend – friending him means you’re lending an air of legitimacy to a relationship you’re sure is gonna crumble in three months.  Facebook wants drama.
Or you can just add everybody.  And then treat yourself to a page full of folks you don’t really know and don’t care about, but Facebook’s thrilled!  You’re interacting with more people!  They can mine the crap out of you!
And so basically, because by default it’s got two modes of “BESTIES” and “GOOD PAL,” you wind up hollering your updates into a room full of people you don’t know that well – unless you wanna take the time to manage and maintain a lot of groups.  You know, like Google+ demanded you do, and we saw how well that worked out.  Or you can go through and trim your friends’ list, which again, drama if they find out, and it has all the appeal of cleaning shower grout.
Plus, there are friends you’re happy to leave behind.  There’s a couple of high school buddies I miss, but there was a good reason the rest of us weren’t pals any more; we didn’t have that much in common, and their memories of me are at a time when I was nascent, stupid, experimenting, and pretty dim.  Their good memories of my times are often stuff I wish I hadn’t done, and yet Facebook’s shoving us up against each other like we’re best buds.  Facebook wants you to know everyone you’ve ever known, and particularly for life’s transitions, there are times you’re happy to make a clean breakoff and start over again with new friends.
So you’ve got old buddies you don’t really know, one-time folks you didn’t care about much in the first place, and the awkwardness that every time you make an update, you’re potentially alerting all of them.  Or none of them, if Facebook doesn’t feel like it’s good enough.
The problem is not the socialization, but the way Facebook insists on amplifying that socialization.  You’re not a person, but a corporation, with Facebook as your shareholders demanding growth every year.  You should have more friends.  You should post more photos.  You should check in more.  And yes, that is a job, which theoretically you’re toiling away at for a reward of interacting with your friends in a fun place – but unless you take stern measures to tamp down that pressure, you’re getting less and less interaction with real friends, and more and more interaction with those Facebook designates as your friends.
And the two are not the same.
Now, Facebook is fine for light users, and I think that’s a part of its popularity now.  If you’re my Mom, who uses it to keep tabs on me and her other relatives, she and her twenty buddies are cool.  But she’s put low expectations into it.  But the more effort you put into Facebook, ironically, the harder it becomes to use; who the fuck is that guy?  Why am I tagged in this update?  Why do these app requests never stop?  And so, I think, the biggest users of Facebook who should be getting satisfaction from this are going, “God, I just need to relax.”
I’m not saying Facebook will disappear.  Hey, MySpace is still around.  But what Facebook touts as an appeal is actually a disincentive to teenagers: hey, all your relatives are here!  They want, and quite reasonably, a private space where they can choose who they interact with without Aunt Minnie’s friend request tapping on their shoulder.
The fact is, Facebook wants to wad us all into one human-Katamari, interacting with everyone we’ve ever met.  Which sounds awesome at first blush, but then you come to realize this isn’t how humans interact in real life.  People want different spaces for different things.  And I think eventually, Facebook’s convenience will start to erode as folks realize that hey, the way Facebook keeps pushing me isn’t the way I want to go.  It’ll be slow.  A decade, maybe.  Facebook’s appropriately ubiquitous that its login works on a ton of sites as a one-of, so maybe it’ll even be relevant.
But I think future generations will view Facebook as an “Oh, that’s cute we thought that” experiment – back when the Internet was new and we thought we wanted to be connected to everybody in the same place.  We don’t.  Not really.

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