Is Facebook Still Cool?By: Chris Crum - November 22, 2011
I re-watched The Social Network the other night, and it’s funny to think about how much Facebook has grown even in the short time since that film was released. Remember the marketing campaign? “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”
Much was made about the “cool” factor of Facebook as it was founded. Is it still cool today? Share your thoughts.
Now, it’s more like 800 million (a new report says Facebook had 721 million active users earlier this year). The valuation is much higher than reported at the end of the film. That number escapes me at the moment, and I don’t have the movie in front of me, but I know it’s ridiculously higher now. Recent estimates had it exceeding $80 billion.
As the story goes, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hesitant to put ads on Facebook when it was getting started. He wanted to see it what it could become first. He didn’t want it to lose that “cool” factor, which was also helped by its initial exclusivity to students of certain universities. A lot has changed since those days. Now, there are not only ads, but a huge ad platform that lets advertisers target people based on their likes and interests. And with “Sponsored Stories,” something you may have “liked” months ago could show up next to one of your friends’ news feeds as a “sponsored story”. For example, my colleague Josh told me he saw a sponsored story last night telling him that I like “Bing.” These stories are now much more in your face.
But that’s business. Facebook needs to monetize this enormous group of people it has, and that’s what it’s doing. I can hardly knock them for that. But not everyone understands or cares. Why do you think ad blockers are so popular?
Too Many Friends?
According to Facebook, there are 69 billion friendships among their active users. See the four degrees of Facebook.
According to a poll from Poll Position, 14% of Facebook users think they have too many Facebook friends, compared to 9% who said they want more (granted, the rest are ok with the number they currently have).
Too many friends can breed information overload. And if you’re friends with everyone you’ve ever known, there’s a good chance some of them are annoying you – especially if they invite you to a lot of apps and games.
There was even a National Unfriend Day created.
Shopping and Bill Pay
According to Gartner Research (as depicted in this infographic from MoonToast (via AllFacebook), companies will generate 50% of web sales via their social presence and mobile apps. It stands to reason that Facebook will be a major factor in that social presence.
However, The Street recently reported on a survey from BillingViews, finding that 87% of people would not be comfortable buying something through Facebook. On top of that, 94% said they wouldn’t pay a bill through Facebook. Security was cited as a main concern.
Molly Wood at CNET put out a popular article the other day that’s generated a great deal of discussion. It’s called “How Facebook is ruining Sharing”. She says, “The slow spread of Facebook’s Open Graph scheme is totally ruining sharing. Here’s an excerpt, which basically sums up her point:
If your friends are using an app like The Guardian or The Washington Post’s new Social Reader, you’ll get an intercept asking you to authorize the original site’s app so that you can read the story. And, of course, so that every story you read will start being shared automatically on Facebook, thanks to the magic of Open Graph!
Now, it’s tempting to blame your friends for installing or using these apps in the first place, and the publications like the Post that are developing them and insisting you view their stories that way. But don’t be distracted. Facebook is to blame here. These apps and their auto-sharing (and intercepts) are all part of the Open Graph master plan.
You’ve no doubt seen plenty of complaints about the “frictionless sharing” that comes with an app like Spotify, where users can essentially spam their friends’ tickers with every song they listen to. There are ways to avoid this, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying to those who find it so. Keep in mind, that this “frictionless sharing” thing is really just getting started. The Timeline hasn’t even been rolled out yet.
Privacy has long been a concern with Facebook for many users, though it’s hardly kept the social network from gaining momentum. After the last f8, when Facebook launched the new Open Graph, more concerns followed.
The Poynter Institute said Facebook and news organizations are pushing the boundaries of online privacy and that “Facebook again my have gone too far in its quest to make privacy obsolete and that this time some news organizations could get burned by going along with it.”
Poynter Digital Media Fellow Jeff Sonderman called out new Facebook apps like the Washington Post’s Social Reader, and similar offerings from The Guardian and The Daily, as well as Yahoo News, which has readers sign up to have their reading activity streamed to their Facebook profile.
Mashable founder Pete Cashmore talked about this in another article saying that he saw on Facebook that someone he knows professionally was reading articles with titles like: “Heather Morris on Breast Implants,” and “Perrey Reeves Shows Off Bikini Body (PHOTO).”
It’s not that these things are so bad, it’s just a matter of do you want everybody you know to know everything you read?
And there’s that whole tracking thing.
Take This Lollipop had a fun look at Facebook privacy:
Recent reports indicate that Facebook is close to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that would at least keep Facebook from making privacy-related changes that you have to opt-out, and would instead make it so users had to opt in for the changes to take effect.
Farmville requests and invites to events you’ll never attend are one thing. Getting spammed by your friends’ music listening is another. And getting pornographic images and pictures of dismemberments in your news feed is another still. Last week, there was a highly publicized attack on Facebook which spawned such images, and proved that Facebook is not invincible to such a thing.
Facebook has had many design changes over the years, and usually when there’s a major overhaul, a lot of people are infuriated. That was no different with the last big change, which altered the way the news feed worked and added the ticker. Some people liked it from the start, and others have no doubt grown to accept it, but a lot of people miss the old Facebook, or other older incarnations. Design changes are a natural part of the evolution of any site, but when Facebook does a redesign, it has enormous ramifications for people’s perception of the site, because it has so many users, and it’s where so many spend such a large amount of their time online. Facebook gets points either way for bringing back the News Feed option to view by most recent.
Facebook is pissing off Android users by not giving its Android app the attention it deserves. Facebook’s Android app is buggy at best. The company recently launched a new and improve iOS app, while leaving the Android app largely untouched. It doesn’t have the design or features of its iPhone counterpart, and it’s pretty bad about notifications.
This is a problem. According to Google, 200 million Android devices have been activated worldwide. I wonder how many of those people use Facebook. They’re also adding 550,000 new devices each day, Google also said.
I’ll be the first to admit that Facebook has changed the world, and has done a lot of amazing things. No company is perfect, and one can’t help but be impressed by the tremendous growth Facebook has seen in users, functionality and valuation. It really is astounding. They’ve forced other major Internet players to try and compete with them.
That, however, is one reason Facebook can’t afford to alienate users. While Facebook may still be the biggest social network on the block (by far), others aren’t backing down. Twitter seems to be gaining hipness with the youngsters, and is getting better and better, while being largely embraced by all facets of media. Google has a massive empire of users across its product list, and is integrating Google+ into all of those products.
Is Facebook becoming less cool? Tell us what you think.