Why FaceBook and Company Aren’t Really Web Pages

Facebook has been in the news with it's recent announcements, changes, and of course, new features.  Over and over again I hear the same arguments about Facebook – lack of privacy, settings too obscure or complex, everything changes so much.  Facebook is this giant morphing ball of "stuff" that everyone likes and no one is happy with.

I'd like to focus on the complexity issues with Facebook, the arguments that its too hard to change settings and that when you dig into it, Facebook can actually be quite complex.

The complexity isn't a surprise to me, but I think it surprises many people.  The reason it surprises them is that they're treating Facebook like a web page or web tool, like a Google search or a Twitter feed.  Facebook is not a simple web page/tool.

Facebook is a web-delivered application (bordering in some cases on being an operating system as well).

Facebook is more like Salesforce than anything else; a web-delivered application that is easily expandable and customizable.  It offers many initial features (posting, groups, chat, etc.) and many extra features depending on what you want to op-into.  It's just just social media, it is a social application.

Because it's basically an application, it's more complex than many web-delivered services people are used to seeing on the web.  Worse for it, being a social tool, its complexity may frustrate people who figure a social tool by definition would be easy and straightforward, since humans are used to socializing and do it naturally.  Having security settings and icon options distract you can be a bit frustrating.

All other things aside, the privacy, the changes, I think people are still expecting Facebook, a web-based piece of software, to be easier to use than is in its nature.

You're going to need to be aware of this:

  1. If you work in social media, remember people are approaching Facebook – and everything like it or associated with it – not as the applications they are.  You're going to need to make sure that's communicated.
  2. If you work with social media, from your job search to company promotion, remember you're working with applications and all their inherent complexities.  Worse, even if you grasp them, Facebook (and those in its shadow or doing similar services) may make changes to complex controls and systems to try and make people happier – and I'm not 100% sure that'll be easy to do or work.
  3. This complexity is an aggravator of other issues people have with Facebook – privacy, etc.  However it can be very hard to change as some of the problems are the nature of the beast – the nature of a piece of complex software.  Facebook may be faced with legal issues, congressional criticism, etc. over many things, but there are some things that are harder to change – but make things worse.

Facebook is an application.  So are many other web technologies.  We're all better off realizing that.

– Steven Savage