Ten Things I Hate About You, Facebook

Facebook is getting all sorts of love from the Web tech crowd for its F8 platform. Webware’s Caroline McCarthy says “Anecdotally, I can say that ‘techy’ people I know, who had originally dismissed Facebook as a glorified address book, are now starting to think that it has a whole lot more street cred.” And Marc Andreessen says that “the new Facebook Platform is a dramatic leap forward for the Internet industry.”

I may be turning into one of those blogging curmudgeons who disrespects the latest thing online as dangerous and crude, possibly even psychologically damaging, but I see lots to worry about with Facebook. It doesn’t seem like a step forward, but rather another attempt by a for-profit company to lock us into one way of doing things — their way. And that seems counter to the ideals upon which the web is based.

However, I didn’t get del.icio.us when I first started using it and now I can’t live without it, so take my crankiness with a large grain of virtual salt, then share with me your own opinions, pros and cons, about Facebook.

With those caveats around my crankiness, here’s what I hate about Facebook:

1. You have to login to see anything. The web’s accelerated growth is based on openly available information. If we start putting everything behind logins, we won’t have the virtuous cycle of sharing and building and an expanding web of information and services. On the social side of things, if we limit our notes to just our friends or people we meet via our friends. we could miss out on some really important connections.

2. It reproduces what we already have. It has messages that are email-like, a contact list, an events list, a Craigslist-style marketplace, Twitter-style updates, and blogging via its Notes application. I can see why they’d want to be a one-stop-shop for virtual interactions, but in each case, their implementation seems weak compared to my favored solution. I prefer a best-of-breed approach for my online communications tools.

3. Users don’t learn anything about HTML, JavaScript, and CSS by adding applications. While Facebook’s approach is obviously easier than messing around with HTML directly, it doesn’t contribute to a growing community of web standards savvy people. True, even WordPress offers sidebar widgets now that don’t require any mucking with code. But I still hope for a day when understanding markup, styles, and a little bit of dynamic scripting is almost as common as knowing how to use Microsoft Word.

4. You don’t own the URL for your profile. Creating your own website with a URL you own is part of creating your brand. Facebook can be a decent complement to your own website, definitely — but will some people just skip the hard work of creating their own place on the web and just stick with Facebook?

5. You don’t own what you do. Once you put a lot of time into Facebook you may have generated a whole lot of interesting information about your social and professional life. But how do you get that data out? How do you do anything with it? There’s no full-powered export to get all your friends data out.

6. The applications are toys. Recently popular include Moods, Horoscopes, and Graffiti. I know how important social interactions are in creating a sense of ambient intimacy. Virtual workers need lightweight human contact as much or maybe more than everyone else.

7. The applications don’t interact with each other. Though they’re integrated in the sense of using the same social network, they don’t seem to care at all about what other apps are doing. I’m not opposed to building up something from little pieces, but as long as it’s all on one platform, shouldn’t there be some additional communication? Given that individual applications are so limited in capability, I’m not sure what sort of integration could really bring any value.

8. You can’t customize the look. Facebook’s blue and white scheme looks nice, and it’s definitely more calm than the riotous displays you find on MySpace. But I don’t want a home online that I can’t change to reflect my own personality and — if I ever get around to creating one — my personal brand.

9. The RSS output is limited. Facebook’s RSS support is pretty limited. For example, the News Feed that aggregates your friends’ mini feeds lacks RSS output — and that’d be really nice to have so you could see what everyone’s up to without having to go to the Facebook site.

10. It feels too group-oriented. The first thing I did on Facebook was ensure I was properly associated with my alma mater, because that seemed important. In my blogging, by contrast, the organizations with which I associate seem less important than who I am individually (er… aside from my association with the juggernaut that runs this blog). The Facebook experience seems to promote the importance of organizations over people — and that seems like a return to the web circa 1999.

What do I like about Facebook? I love the idea of integrating all my social software with one list of friends instead of having to reproduce my contacts across multiple sites and services. However, I might prefer to have my browser do that or run a contact manager on my own site that other web services could read instead of handing over all the information to a third-party site.

What do you think about Facebook? Share in the comments.

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