Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Facebook is not a good, directed, communications mechanism

Time for another rant. Sorry. Sort of.

I have several friends who seem to live on Facebook. The fact that they do so doesn't bother me. That's fine. Go ahead and post your musings, your pictures of food, your status updates, etc. Whatever you like by way of generalities and banalities is just fine on FB. I really don't mind.

But please do NOT assume that whatever you post to FB gets to everyone who knows or cares. It doesn't work that way. Really.

First off, there are people like me that don't use FB. The Zuckerberg clan long ago lost my respect for how they handle personal information, set defaults for new features, and the way they run the site. (Hint: breaking things is bad, not creative or useful.) As a result, I don't use my FB account anymore. I still have one - for now - but I never go read my wall (or feed, or stream, or whatever FB is calling it these days). If you want to reach people like me, you'll have to pick another communications medium: email, voice, text, whatever. But please do not assume that just writing a status update on FB constitutes an effective way of telling me something specific. I won't get it. And while I know FB has something like 1.5 billion users, it doesn't have everyone signed up yet.

But let's assume I was still using FB. Would it work for directed communication with me? Actually, no. There are at least three reasons that FB's design makes it a poor choice for communicating directed information, even between actual users of the site itself.
  1. Importance ordering of your wall. By default, FB has (or had, last time I was there) algorithms that automatically tried to sort the most important items from your stream and put them at the top. Things it deems less important are farther down, making them easy to miss. Yes, you can change the sort to time order, rather than based on their arbitrary (and usually incorrect, in my experience) importance order, but that change isn't sticky, so you have to do it every time you visit the site. It is, therefore, easy to forget to switch it back on each viewing, and when you see something you've read before, you might conclude - incorrectly - that you're caught up, and thus miss something that one of your FB friends expects you to see.

  2. You're probably unable to keep up with your stream. If you have friends that use FB a lot, you get a lot of things on your wall. And if you're not vigilant about turning off posts from games and the like, you're flooded with various other posts as well, things that don't convey particularly useful information. Add a few other people who post a lot - particularly humor and pictures - and it becomes impossible to keep up with the stream. When that happens you will miss posts from people, and if someone is trying to tell you something specific, you'll be out of luck.

  3. Finally, FB doesn't send your posts to every friend's wall. There was a big flap about this a while ago, and it may not apply to people with low numbers of friends, but they announced that not every status update gets to all of your friends and followers. In fact, if you want to get more eyeballs on something, they have a mechanism through which you can pay money to give your post a wider distribution. Unless they have changed (or broken) things, that continues to this day, so announcing an event on FB may or may not get to everyone you're expecting to attend.
Effectively, FB is an unreliable communications tool. It is designed that way, and it works as designed.

So, please, if you want to communicate specifically with a group of people, pick some other communications mechanism to make it happen. There are many choices these days - email, phone, and text at least - and anything that works is better than one that doesn't.

In part this is a "get off my lawn" rant, I know, but that isn't all of it. If you're really trying to communicate specific data to specific people, FB is not the right tool for the job. And as I say, I really don't mind anyone using it... just not for that particular purpose.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.