Business Technology

Just how bad is Facebook at programming?

Cute picture of my son today.  Huge smile as he looked through a Holy Crepe.  He had eaten out some of it and looked to the camera; cute as ever.  Gotta have this as my profile picture.  Facebook profile, upload picture, wait….wait….wait some more.  Finally it uploads.    Sometimes it doesn’t of course.  Go to Twitter.   Same objective.  But hey, it magically shows me a preview of the picture instantly.   And wow, I can even crop it to the part most relevant to a profile picture.   Must be rocket science.  The boffs at Facebook haven’t figured it out.   Some ultra secret patented method Twitter is using…  The picture even uploads faster at Twitter!  Must be they have more money for better servers…

Or Facebook is simply terrible at designing their infrastructure.  And no, it’s not about the scale of the exercise.   Facebook has always been a terrible platform.  Sure, we don’t get as many major hiccups anymore, but does anyone there even bother to test the user experience?   Tech journalists and social media pundits have a field day with every major overhaul.   Facebook cause pages are created demanding we change back.   Plug ins appear to make it “look like the good old Facebook”.   They never work.

Because Mark Zuckerberg is still carrying the mentality he had when he started.   He is more concerned with the people gaming his system than the experience of the rest of the users.

Here is a simple example.   Accepting friend requests.   You may never even consider this if you get 1 or 2 per day.  But anyone building up fake profiles and trying to amass a lot of Facebook ‘friends’ might have two or three hundred friend request to accept.  No, there is no “accept all” button.  Because Mark, knows some people will abuse it.   If you really are a popular person, just starting on Facebook and you have 250 friend requests, you have to click them one by one.   And of course the buttons aren’t at the same place.  No, that would be to easy to get an automated script monkey on to.   As you accept one friend request, it morphs into something else so you have to physically scroll to the next right position of  “Accept”.

There are dozens of examples like this.  Most people with just one genuine personal account, will not even notice them.  What they will notice and what we all experience daily is just a really really bad user interface.   They build little hoops for cheats but penalise everybody else while they are at it.    The fact that it has never been done in this scale and that it has to serve billions of very different customers is no excuse;  many of the niggles I have with Facebook are due to the fact that Zuckerberg is obsessed with people that are as sneaky thinking as him.  And he can’t think of clever algorithmic ways to get over it.   In a sense, Edgerank is this magic ingredient.   And all the recent changes are a move in the right direction.

Now let’s hope Edgerank gets good enough so that Zuckerberg relaxes the stupid interface hoops some more.  You can now accept hundreds of friend requests from the left button directly which is faster.  When I see an “accept all” button I will know Facebook has finally got a real and stable business model.


The precursor to Facebook groups 450 years ago worked much better

ridotto was pretty much like a Facebook group.   It gathered like minded people around a topic.   It was private, like a club.   Any of you who have visited Florence might have seen the plaque commemorating the Camerata, a ridotto which met at the house of Giovanni Bardi di Vernio.   They argued and talked, and gossiped and had flame wars.   I assume pretty much like people do in forums or Facebook groups.   They repeated themselves, they clashed, some member came and some left.   But in the twenty years that this group met at this house, they did something much more important:

They made the first ever opera.

Because – unlike most Facebook groups – the ridotto channeled the energies of its members around a theme.   They were concerned with the nature of musical expression.  Vincenzo Galilei (father to the famous Galileo), based on the conversations in this house, made scathing public attacks on the madrigal, the “pointless pop song” of the time.  But they didn’t just post pictures on their common timeline.   They didn’t stop at making fun of the ridiculous repetitiveness of madrigal technique.   They developed and refined specific theories to explain why the artificiality of the madrigal was useless for human expression.   They didn’t just make a facebook fan page for Girolamo Mei, the scholar who was their guru, they developed his ideas further:   one singer, simple accompaniment, clear wording, natural declamation, no dance rhythms on the words, music to express the emotions of the singer.

The Florentine Camerata staged “Daphne” by  Rinuccini and Peri in 1598.  Other members of the ridotto and Monteverdi soon followed. The world has had opera ever since, the musical genre which has survived without interruption ever since.   That in itself is quite a success in a world which has been shaken by everything from the Renaissance, to the Industrial Revolution since.

Now get back to your Facebook tab.   Yes, I know you have it open!   Check out the content, especially in pages or groups organised around a particular topic.   Do you think there is ever a chance they will produce anything close to a new musical genre?  If it happens, it won’t be with any help from the technology.  The members argue about the same topic at regular intervals, yet there is no way to organise the arguments like at .    People nitpick about the exact meaning of specialized terms yet there is no specialised dictionary being built.   Heck, you can’t even easily find an old discussion!   But most of all, you have no sense of actually building on something.   It is unsatisfying, confusing and ultimately a waste of time.

This is ridiculous given the technology at hand.   Most Facebook groups are built around a cause.   It would be quite easy to almost automatically make some of the content in a good online spat, end up available online for the public.   To intelligently build around a mission statement.   To make members feel they are actually achieving something.   So, since Facebook is so obviously intent on staying in the “timewasting” part of the market, I ask of everyone else to make the plug in technologies to get the job done.   An app to get content out of Facebook and into a blog maybe.   Another to find unusual terms or specialised words and compile them into a dictionary for new members (or the public).   Just scroll down the timeline of a Facebook group you are a member of and loads of other great ideas will come.

In fact I think I will setup a ridotto for people that want to work on this idea.

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